- by Dr Murali Subramanian Oncology India
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- Dec 23 2017
UNDERSTANDING THE BASICS OF CHEMOTHERAPY
Chemotherapy is used to treat cancer by destroying cancerous cells.
HOW IS CHEMOTHERAPY USED?
At times, chemotherapy alone can be used to treat cancer. However, it is more often used in combination with other procedures, such as:
- SURGERY: Where the cancerous tumours or tissue, contaminating the organ is removed.
- RADIATION THERAPY: Radioactive particles are used to kill cancer cells, using a special machine or by putting radioactive particles in the body.
- BIOLOGICAL THERAPY: Bacteria, vaccines, antibodies are introduced in the body to kill cancer cells.
WHAT IS CHEMOTHERAPY USED FOR?
Chemotherapy drugs can be used for the following:
- Prevent cell division or impair mitosis
- Target the enzymes and hormones that are the cancer cells’ food source, which they need to grow
- Apoptosis; programmed death of the cancer cells
- Neoadjuvant chemotherapy: Shrink a tumour before radiation therapy or surgery
- Adjuvant chemotherapy: Destroy any remaining cancer cells post the surgery or radiation therapy
- Complement and make biological, radiation and other therapies more effective
- Destroy cancer cells and prevent them from returning or spreading to other parts of the body
HOW LONG DOES THE TREATMENT LAST?
The duration of chemotherapy treatment will depend on the following:
- The type of cancer
- The stage of cancer
- The goal of treatment – cure, control or pain relief
- The type of chemotherapy used
- The way your body is responding to the treatment
You can receive the treatment in cycles; a period of treatment followed by a period of rest.
HOW IS CHEMOTHERAPY GIVEN?
Chemotherapy can be given using the following ways:
- Injection: Drugs are delivered using a shot directly into the muscle in your hip, thigh, arm or the fatty part of your arm, leg, stomach
- Intra-arterial (IA): Drugs go directly in the artery through a needle or catheter
- Intraperitoneal (IP): Drugs are delivered to the peritoneal cavity that contains organs such as liver, intestines, stomach and ovaries, done using surgery or through a tube
- Intravenous (IV): Chemotherapy goes directly into the vein
- Topical: Rubbing the drugs into a cream form onto the skin
- Oral: Swallowing a pill or liquid containing the drugs
SIDE EFFECTS OF CHEMOTHERAPY
Chemotherapy is characterised by severe adverse effects, ranging from mild to severe. Some of the side effects experienced are:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Alopecia or hair loss
- Hearing impairment
- Low white blood cell count
- Susceptibility to infections
- Low blood platelet count
- Bleeding problems
- Low red blood cell count
- Loss of appetite
- Bowel problems
- Cognitive and mental health problems
Cancer is a physically and mentally exhaustive period and chemotherapy can bring about various issues. The doctor will conduct regular tests to determine the efficiency of the treatment. It is important that people undergoing chemotherapy get adequate care and support.
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