What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment with the use of chemicals to kill the cancer cells spreading in your body.
How does chemotherapy work?
Cancer cells have the tendency to grow and multiply quickly. Different chemotherapy drugs available can be used either individually or in combination for treatment. Though effective, there are certain side effects of chemotherapy treatment, it can affect some fast growing healthy cells of skin,hair,intestines and bone marrow causing some serious complications.
What does Chemotherapy do?
It depends upon the type and the stage of the cancer. The response received from these 2 criteria are divided in below 3 groups:
How is chemotherapy used?
- 1) Cure : In some cases, the treatment eradicates cancer cells to such extent that doctors cannot detect any cancerous cell in your body. The best part of it is that these cancer cells will never grow back again, of course that does not always happen.
- 2) Control : In some situations, the growth of cancer tumours may be reduced due to chemotherapy. It may happen that the cancer cells do not multiply and spread to other parts of the body.
- 3) Ease Symptoms : Some time, it is used to shrink tumours causing pain. It may not cure or control the spreading of cancer cells. These tumours may again grow in the body.
Chemo may destroy cancer cells, but periodically it is used by combining with:
Surgery: Doctors remove the cancerous tissues, organs or tumours which get destroyed due to these cancer cells.
Radiation therapy: Invisible radioactive particles can be used to kill cancerous cells in the body. Special machine is used to insert radioactive material in the body that attack the damaged parts of the body from outside. Quite often these radioactive particles are injected inside our body to kill the cancer cells.
Biological therapy: These include living material like bacteria, vaccines or anti-bodies which are carefully injected in the body to kill cancer cells.
Chemotherapy may be used to:
How long does chemotherapy last?
- > Neo adjutant chemotherapy may be used to shrink a tumour before radiation therapy or surgery.
- > Adjutant chemotherapy may be used to destroy any remaining cancer cells after surgery or radiation therapy.
- > May be used to make biological or radiation therapies to be more successful.
- > Impair the cancer cells that return or spread to other parts of the body.
That depends on:
How your body reacts to the chemo treatment.
- >The type of cancer.
- >The period from when the cancer is.
- >The chemo lasts up to the goal of treatment, either cure, control growth, or ease Pain.
- >The type of chemotherapy undertaken.
The chemotherapy treatment can be taken at fixed time intervals, that means a period of treatment then rest. Say for example, a period of 4 weeks may planned in such a manner that 1 week treatment and then 3 weeks rest. During this rest time our body makes new healthy cells. But, in case, the doctors observe occurrence of some side effects or the response of chemotherapy is not as per expectations then the treatment cycle may get disturbed. In such a situation a new time cycle needs to be planned to be on track again.
How is chemotherapy given?
There are several ways to treat patients with chemotherapy. It all depends on the preference made by the patient and the stage of cancer he is suffering.
Injection: Usually, the drugs are injected directly in to your muscle- either hip or arm or any fatty part of your body.
Intra-arterial(IA): With the help of a needle, or soft, thin tube (Catheter) the drugs directly flow in to the arteries.
Intraperitoneal (IP): The drugs are delivered into the space within the abdomen, the stomach and the liver which is called the peritoneal cavity. This exercise is performed during surgery or through a tube or a special port.
Intrathecal chemotherapy: This treatment includes the injection of medicine in to the cerebrospinal fluid. This is the area surrounding the spinal cord and the brain.
The chemo treatment is directly done through the veins.
In this type a cream form of ointment which includes the drugs is rubbed on your skin.
Here, a pill or liquid containing the drug is given to swallow.
Side effects of chemo and how these effects can be reduced:
There are quite a number of side effects a patient gets due to Chemo treatment. It may range from tiredness to skin reactions. Below is the summary of some of the side effects.
1. Tiredness / Fatigue :
Although the cause of fatigue in cancer patients cannot be determined correctly but, it may be due to lack of proper sleep, stress, poor appetite etc. Even if the patient takes proper care and rest, the signs of anxiety and restlessness will still exist. However, this can be reduced by a disciplined daily schedule prepared under the supervision of your doctor and strictly following it. This may include activities like proper & healthy food intake, multiple short naps during the day, performing activities you enjoy, taking of light walks or exercise a bit, to maintain a diary as to how you feel each day with any changes in your fatigue levels.
2. Nausea & Vomiting :
This issue may vary in severity from one person to another and depends upon the treatment the patient is taking. It is possible to avoid nausea through proper medications. The problem of nausea may last for a long time as compared to problem of vomiting. But both can be minimized with certain precautions like eating a light meal before chemo treatment or taking a nap after the treatment.
3. Low blood counts :
A patient undergoing chemotherapy treatment is more likely to get infected easily. This happens because most cancer drugs directly affect the growth of white blood cells which are required to fight many infections. Anti-cancer drugs affect the bone marrow and overall health condition of the patient. Proper hygienic steps have to be followed to reduce the effects and prevent from getting infected like washing hands neatly, avoid catching cold & flu, avoid crowds, not to take bath with hot water but, warm water, avoid contact with infected patients and so on.
If a patient is suffering from diarrhoea, he should take small meals with foods easy to digest , try more liquids like soups. Eating warm food and avoiding cold stuff and cold water, increase your capacity of water intake. Having foods rich in fibre will help a lot for these patients.
5.Hair Loss :
This is a common problem in all cancer patients. Chemotherapy treatment can affect all body hairs including eye brows. One may lose all his hair though this hair loss is temporary. The extent of hair loss varies but usually starts 2/3 weeks after the completion of first treatment. In some cases, the hair starts to grow 2/3 months after completion of the last treatment.
6. Skin reaction / changes :
Chemotherapy treatment badly affects the skin of some patients. Redness, pain, itching, scaling skin are some of the skin disorders faced by the patients during or after the treatment. To avoid direct sunlight and use of proper lotions/creams under the supervision of doctors is recommended to overcome this problem.