Chemotherapy

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. Chemotherapy is referred to as systemic therapy because the medicine circulates throughout the body to treat cancer cells wherever they may be. The chemotherapy side effects may vary.

Chemotherapy depends on the stage, type of cancer, overall health, previous cancer treatments and the location of the cancer cells. Chemotherapy is also used in non-cancerous medical conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Chemotherapy is often used to prepare for a bone marrow transplant.

What does Chemotherapy do to help in Cancer Treatment?

  • It prevents cancer cell division.
  • Controls tumour growth.
  • Relieve symptoms.
  • Destroys cancer cells which have spread to other parts of the body (metastatic cancer).
  • Also, it destroys the cancer cells that have come back (recurrent cancer).
  • Destroy any cancer cells that might be left in the body after radiation or surgery. 
  • Shrink the tumours before surgery or radiation therapy
  • To treat cancer that has come back (recurred) or spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body. 
  • To enhance the effects of other treatments such as radiation
  • To reduce pain and current symptoms, and improve the quality of life. 

What are the Chemotherapy Methods?

Chemotherapy methods can be used for the following:

  • Chemotherapy before surgery: Chemotherapy is used to shrink the tumour before radiation therapy or surgery which is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy with a combination of other treatments: Chemotherapy can be combined with immunotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. Radiotherapy and surgery treat cancer, while chemotherapy helps in killing the cancer cells that have spread to different places.
  • Chemotherapy after Surgery: Sometimes cancer cells may remain after surgery or radiation therapy, so chemotherapy helps in destroy the cancer cells which still exist after the treatment. This is also called adjuvant chemotherapy.

How Long Does Chemotherapy take?

The main reason why chemotherapy is given is to cure cancer, control it or to relieve pain. The duration and frequency of chemotherapy depend on the following points:

  • Type of cancer
  • Stage of cancer
  • Type of chemotherapy
  • Depending on how the body responds to chemotherapy

Generally, a patient may need 4 – 8 cycles of chemotherapy to treat cancer.

How is Chemotherapy Administered?

Chemotherapy can be given in different ways depending upon the type and stage of cancer.

  1. Chemotherapy pills – It is a drug which is given in the form of tablets, capsules or liquid.
  2. Intravenous chemotherapy (IV) – A person can take it as an injection or as a drip.
  3. Chemotherapy Creams – Some chemotherapy drugs are available in the form of creams. Generally, it is used for skin cancer.
  4. 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. 
  5. Chemotherapy Injection – Chemotherapy is delivered in the form of a shot. It includes the area of the fatty part of the body like the belly, arm or leg.
  6. Intra-arterial (IA) – The chemotherapy drugs are given through the microcatheter which is injected into the artery that supplies blood to the tumour. Mostly it is placed in the thigh. This type of chemotherapy is used for liver cancer.
  7. Intrathecal – Intrathecal chemotherapy is used in the treatment of cancer which exists in the central nervous system. Generally, this type of treatment is used for treating different types of leukaemia and lymphoma and is also used in treating some types of brain tumors. 

What are the Chemotherapy Side effects?

Chemotherapy is used to kill the cancer cells but it also damages the healthy cells causing the following effects:

  • Common Side Effects of Chemotherapy – Tiredness, loss of appetite, weight loss, pain from nerve damage, lymphedema, skin changes and fertility changes.
  • Anaemia – Anemia (a low red blood cell count) can cause excessive tiredness, pale skin colour, shortness of breath, irritability, decreased attention span, headaches, and dizziness.
  • Bruising and Bleeding – Destruction of blood platelets will result in bruising and bleeding known as thrombocytopenia and is caused by a lack of sufficient platelets to form a clot and stop bleeding.
  • Diarrhoea or Constipation – The intestines can be affected by chemotherapy. Proper diet and nutrition can help avoid or reduce these symptoms.
  • Fever – Fever could be a sign of serious infection. Chemotherapy often destroys the white blood cells temporarily, which are the body’s primary defence against infection. 
  • Hair Loss – Some chemotherapy causes hair loss or thinning of the hair. Hair will always grow back when treatment is finished, but it may have a different colour or texture.
  • Mouth and Throat Sores – Rapidly growing cells lining the mouth, throat and digestive tract can be temporarily destroyed by chemotherapy medicines. This causes sores called mucositis (varies from minor to severe pain). With time, healthy cells will grow back and the sores will heal.
  • Nausea and Vomiting – Chemotherapy can cause nausea and vomiting by affecting both the gastrointestinal tract and the message centre in the brain responsible for nausea and vomiting. Medicines may be given prior to and during chemotherapy treatments that will help to minimize or prevent these symptoms.
  • Organ Damage – Chemotherapy drugs could affect organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and brain, causing temporary or permanent damage. Some drugs may also affect hearing.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What are the benefits of Chemotherapy?

  • lower the total number of cancer cells in your body
  • reduce the likelihood of cancer spreading
  • shrink tumour size
  • reduce current symptoms
  • It may help to relieve pain in last-stage cancer

How do doctors know if Chemo is Working?

The oncologist will examine your body’s response during and after chemotherapy. The oncologist use tests to determine if your tumour is shrinking or growing. 

How long is a Chemo Session?

Generally, it lasts for three or four hours, while some may only take a half-hour.

How long does a Chemo Cycle Last?

You may get a dose of chemotherapy on the first day and before repeating the treatment 3 weeks of recovery time is given. Each 3-week period is called a treatment cycle.

What does Chemo do to a child?

Chemotherapy damage to quickly dividing cells will cause side effects such as low blood cell counts, nausea, diarrhoea, or hair loss during treatment. These short-term side effects will go away over time after treatment is over. 

How do they administer Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is most often given as an infusion into a vein (intravenously). The drugs can be given by inserting a tube with a needle into a vein in your arm or into a device in a vein in your chest. Chemotherapy pills. Some chemotherapy drugs could be taken in pill or capsule form.

Does Chemotherapy Cause Infertility in a child?

Infertility remains one of the most common and life-altering complications experienced by adults being treated for cancer during childhood.

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