Everything that you need to know about Chemotherapy

Cancer cells divide at a much faster rate than healthy cells in our body and can result in either malignant or benign tumors. While benign tumors lack the ability to invade and spread to other parts of the body, the malignant tumor is just the polar opposite. If the malignant tumors divide and grow at an uncontrollable rate and if it remains undetected for long, it can lead to cancer. And to restrict this type of uncontrollable growth, doctors recommend Chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill these cancerous cells and prevent the cancer from spreading to the whole body or nearby tissues. Although this treatment is the most sought after cancer treatment, but, it can also be clubbed with some other treatments to treat cancers. But, nothing goes without saying that chemotherapy has side effects too.

This guide will help you understand the various aspects of Chemotherapy. So, let’s get started with the basics.

What is Chemotherapy?

A healthy human body is constantly replacing cells through cell division. But, when the cell division takes an uncontrollable turn it leads to cancer. Cancerous cells use up a lot of available nutrients and oxygen from and in around from the normal cells which results in the death of the healthy cells. The chemotherapy drugs interfere with the cancer cells reproduction and division. The chemotherapy treatment can either help in shrinking the tumor or slow the rapid growth of cancer cells to help the patients live longer. This treatment was first used in the 1950s. With the advent of medical science, now, there are over 100 chemo drugs in use to treat cancer. However, no treatment is a sure shot way to cure cancer and the oncologist is the best person to comment on the treatment and dosages. Plus, as a patient, you should always ask your doctor questions to stay aware of all the risks, precautions and treatment results.

Now that we know what chemotherapy is, lets understand the goals of chemotherapy.

What are the goals of Chemotherapy?

If the doctor recommends chemotherapy to treat cancer, it’s vital to understand the goals of treatment before making any further treatment decisions. Here are the three main goals for the chemotherapy in cancer treatment:

Curative: Chemotherapy is part of the treatment plan to cure cancer and the drugs achieve it by destroying all the cancerous cells with the hope that it doesn’t come back. Although cure might be the ultimate goal in these treatments, but still there’s always a chance for the cancer to come back.

Controlling: At times, the oncologist’s recommend chemotherapy to control the cancer. The Chemo drugs can not only end the continuous division of the cancer cells but also have the ability to shrink the tumors. The intent to control the disease with drugs can not only prolong a patient’s life but also gives them a chance to manage the cancer better.

Palliative: If the cancer is detected at an advanced stage, oncologists recommend palliative chemotherapy. Once, the cancer spreads all over the body/tissues, it gets difficult to control or manage the cancer. Palliative Chemotherapy helps to slow down the symptoms caused by the cancer. The ultimate goal is  to improve the quality of life for patients and ease the pain as much as possible. Palliation isn’t restricted to chemotherapy, but such patients undergo a combination of treatments and medical help to slow the cancer.

Now, that we understand the goals of chemotherapy care, let’s look at how these drugs are given.

How chemotherapy drugs are given?

Let’s look at some of the ways, Chemotherapy drugs are given:

  • Chemotherapy pills – Some chemotherapy drugs can be taken by patients in pill or capsule form.
  • Chemotherapy infusions – Intravenous infusions through a patient’s arm, or chest, is one of the common ways to treat cancer patients.
  • Chemotherapy creams – This form of treatment is used for certain kinds of skin cancer, where creams or gels containing chemotherapy drugs are to be applied to the skin.
  • Chemotherapy shots – Here the Chemotherapy drugs are injected with a needle, just like, how you would receive a flu shot.
  • Chemotherapy drugs used to treat one area of the body – Sometimes, Chemotherapy drugs can be used to treat just one area of the body. So, if the chemotherapy drug is given directly in the abdomen it is called intraperitoneal chemotherapy while for the  chest cavity, it is known as intrapleural chemotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy Drugs can be given directly to the tumor-  Chemotherapy can be given directly to the cancer area or, after surgery, where the cancer once was. Thin disk-shaped wafers with chemotherapy drugs can be placed near the area, after surgery, which will slowly break down releasing the chemotherapy drugs. Plus, the drugs can also be injected directly into a vein or artery that feeds the tumor.

Are there any side effects?

The side effects of chemotherapy drugs can significantly impact on your life. Although there are drug effects, not every drug causes a side effect. Before starting the treatment, it’s important for the patients to ask their doctors about side effects and if there is any way you can prevent that.

Few Common Side effects of chemotherapy treatment

Here’s a list of the common side effects that include:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Bleeding
  • Constipation
  • Easy bruising

Although these common side effects can be prevented or treated, however, these subsides once the chemo treatment ends.

Other than the common side effects, Chemotherapy is also known to cause long-term side effects that are not evident until a few weeks, months or years of treatment. This mostly arises as the chemotherapy drugs affect both the cancer cells and healthy cells.  Here are a few late side effects that have the power to change your life.

  • Infertility
  • Damage to lung tissue
  • Heart problems
  • Risk of a second cancer
  • Kidney problems
  • Nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy)

How to prepare for Chemotherapy?

Cancer by itself is an extremely physically and emotionally draining disease. Plus, with chemotherapy, the situation can get overwhelming and can leave a mark on you even after the difficult situation is over. That’s why patients need to have a positive outlook to defeat cancer and come out strong even after surviving the severe adverse effects. Before the start of everything, patients should ask their doctors for a treatment plan, recoveries and specific instructions to be able to prepare for the treatments.

Life After Chemotherapy

Most cancer patients receive chemotherapy mostly in a clinical setting. Patients would have to make regular visits for checkup and undergo tests, so that the doctor is aware of the drug’s effects and then adjust the treatment accordingly. Although, the fight against cancer is a steep mountain to climb, a positive mind, supporting family and friends can change the whole ball-game.

Read more:- Preparations to be done before going for chemotherapy session

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