What Is Chemotherapy?

When the cells in your body begin to grow and multiply uncontrollably, they form a tumour, and the condition is called cancer. Several treatments are available to stop these cancer cells from multiplying and spreading to other parts of the body. While standard cancer treatments are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, newer treatments are increasingly being used, including targeted drug therapy, hormone therapy, brachytherapy, and proton beam therapy. 

Chemotherapy is one of the primary treatment options to kill or disrupt cancer cells and prevent their spread. Chemotherapeutic drugs are of different types and can act on actively dividing cancer cells. This treatment may be given alone or combined with other treatments like surgery or radiation therapy.  

Using chemotherapy in early-stage cancers aims to kill any remaining cancer cells and prevent cancer recurrence. In advanced stages of cancer, chemotherapy helps alleviate symptoms and prolong life.

Types of Cancers Treated With Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a treatment of choice for most cancers of the body– from head and neck cancers to abdominal cancers, cancer of hormonal glands, and connective tissue. Its use in your cancer treatment depends upon cancer stage, type, grade, spread extent, and overall health and fitness.

Who Is A Candidate For Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is used to treat different types of cancers. Depending upon your cancer type, specific drugs are prescribed.

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Chemotherapy Procedure

Chemotherapy drugs can be given in different forms, and the most suitable one for you depends upon clinical factors. This treatment can be provided at home, as an outpatient treatment in a cancer care centre or your doctor’s office, and in a hospital setting. 

Here are some ways how chemotherapy drugs may be administered:

  • Orally: In the tablet or liquid (syrup) form
  • IV drip/infusion: Injected directly into a vein via an intravenous drip. This is a standard mode of chemotherapy and may take a few hours.
  • Injection: The chemotherapy drug may be injected into a vein, muscle or under the skin
  • Topically: In the form of a cream or gel that is spread on the skin
  • Intrathecal: This mode of administering chemotherapy drugs is used in cancers of the nervous system.
  • Intraperitoneal: In cancers of the abdomen, the chemotherapy drug may be directly given into the abdominal cavity.

Benefits of Using Chemotherapy In Cancer Treatment

Chemotherapy offers many benefits. Depending on your treatment goals, it may be used to:

It prevents the cancer from spreading and helps to slow the growth of the cancer.

It helps kill the cancer cells that have spread to other parts of your body (metastatic cancer)

It helps to reduce pain and other problems caused by tumour

It has the potential to cure cancer completely

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

When you think of chemotherapy, most people associate the treatment with its side effects, with hair loss being the most common. Like any other treatment, chemotherapy causes side effects, but they depend mainly on the type of chemotherapy and drug used. 

The side effects of chemotherapy can be treated or prevented. Your doctor and healthcare team will tell you what to expect during your chemotherapy treatment. However, not all side effects of this treatment can be predicted.

Some commonly experienced chemotherapy side effects that one may experience are:

  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Increased frequency of infections
  • Anaemia
  • Increased risk of bleeding and bruising
  • Mouth sores and dry mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Skin changes such as dryness, discolouration, redness, itchy or sore patches
  • Sleep issues like insomnia
  • Fertility issues
  • Digestive problems like diarrhoea or constipation

You must know that not everyone experiences all the side effects. Though these side effects of chemotherapy are distressing and derail your daily life, they are not severe. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any side effects during your chemotherapy treatment.

If you are concerned about hair loss during your chemotherapy treatment, you must know that this side effect is not common to all drugs used. Hair loss is a side effect of certain chemotherapy drugs only. 

Your doctor and healthcare team will inform you about the side effects you can expect based on the drug chosen for your chemotherapy treatment.

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If you need to speak to a specialist about undergoing a Chemotherapy procedure for your cancer or seek a second opinion, reach out to us right away!

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