What is Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is designed to destroy rapidly growing cancer cells in the body. The goal of chemotherapy is not only to slow down the growth of cancer cells but also to stop the growth of cancer cells by using anti-cancer drugs. A doctor who specializes in cancer treatment is known as an oncologist.
Chemotherapy is used in other diseases that are non – cancerous like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Chemotherapy is often used to prepare for a bone marrow transplant.
What does chemotherapy do?
- It prevents cancer cell division.
- Controls tumor growth.
- Relieve symptoms.
- Destroys cancer cells that have spread in other parts of body (metastatic cancer).
- Also, it destroys the cancer cells that have come back (recurrent cancer).
Cancer can be used for the following:
- Chemotherapy before surgery: Chemotherapy is used to shrink the tumor before radiation therapy or surgery which is called neo - adjuvant chemotherapy.
- Chemotherapy with combination of other treatment: Chemotherapy can be combined with immunotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. Radiation therapy and surgery treats the cancer, while chemotherapy helps in killing the cancer cells that have spread at different places.
- Chemotherapy after surgery: Sometimes cancer cells may remain after surgery or radiation therapy, so chemotherapy helps in destroying the cancer cells which still exist after the treatment. This is also called adjuvant chemotherapy.
How long does chemotherapy take?
The duration and frequency of chemotherapy depends on the following points:
- Type of cancer
- Stage of cancer
- Type of chemotherapy
- Reason why chemotherapy is given - whether to cure the cancer, to control it or to relieve pain
- Response of a body to chemotherapy
Generally, a patient may need 4 – 8 cycles of chemotherapy to treat cancer.
How is chemotherapy given?
According to the type and stage of the cancer, chemotherapy can be given in many different ways.
- Chemotherapy pills: It is a drug which is given in the form of tablet, capsule or liquid.
- Intravenous chemotherapy (IV): A person can take it as an injection or as a drip.
- Chemotherapy Creams: Some chemotherapy drugs are available in the form of creams. Generally, it is used in skin cancer.
- Intraperitoneal (IP): Chemotherapy is transferred to the peritoneal cavity which includes the organs like liver, stomach, intestine and ovaries. This is done with the help of a catheter and a port. Usually, this type of treatment is used for treating ovarian cancer.
- Chemotherapy Injection: Chemotherapy is delivered in the form of a shot. It includes the area of the fatty part of the body like belly, arm or leg.
- Intra-arterial (IA): The chemotherapy drugs are delivered to the artery that supplies blood to the tumor. A microcatheter is placed into the artery. Mostly it is placed in the thigh. Generally, this type of chemotherapy is used for liver cancer.
- Intrathecal: Intrathecal chemotherapy is used in the treatment of cancer that exists in the central nervous system. Generally, this type of treatment is used for treating different types of leukaemia and lymphoma and also used in treating some types of brain tumor.
What Is the success rate of Chemotherapy?
Cancer Patient usually receive chemotherapy, or chemo with other modality of treatment such as surgery and radiotherapy. This can make it difficult for researchers to determine exact benefit of chemotherapy on a cancer patient. But based on American Cancer Society's 2016–2017 report, following data can be derived. This report uses 5-year relative survival rates. As the treatment protocol in India is as same as USA, we can use the data to arrive at inclusion irrespective of destination of treatment.
- Chemotherapy success rate in Breast Cancer:
Most people with stage 1, 2, or 3 breast cancer undergo surgery as part of their treatment.
The table below shows the percentages of females with breast cancer who undergo treatment involving chemotherapy:
Breast cancer survival
The following table shows survival rates among females with breast cancer, depending on the stage at diagnosis.
- Colorectal cancer survival
The following table gives information about survival rates for people with colorectal cancer who underwent chemotherapy:
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
This type of lymphoma is a type of cancer that begins in cells called lymphocytes. These are immune system cells that help the body fight infection but in this stage it fights against patient's immune system.
- Lung cancer
There are two types of lung cancer: small-cell and non-small cell (N-SC).
Around 13% of lung cancers are small-cell. Most people with this type receive chemotherapy.
Approximately 83% of lung cancers are N-SC. The remaining 3% are undefined.
N-SC cancer patient receives below detailed treatment:
Lung cancer survival
- Testicular cancer survival
Side Effects during Chemotherapy:
Chemotherapy is used to kill the cancer cells but it also damages the healthy cells causing the following effects:
- Hair loss
- A loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Pain from nerve damage
- Skin changes
- Fertility changes
- lower the total number of cancer cells in your body
- reduce the likelihood of cancer spreading
- shrink tumor size
- reduce current symptoms
- It may help to relieve pain in last stage cancer