Chemotherapy Treatment for Cancer
Chemotherapy treatment for cancer involves the administration of different drugs in different forms inside the patient’s body to kill the cancerous cells. These drugs are either given before or after surgery or in combination with radiation therapy or can be given as the main method of treatment for cancer. It is given to shrink the size of the cancer cells before surgery, and to destroy the remaining ones after surgery.
Procedure of Chemotherapy Treatment for Cancer
Chemotherapy treatment is generally given in the form of cycles, which the patients have to take by going to the hospital. These cycles are either given twice, thrice or four times a week, followed by a rest period. The duration of these cycles depends on the extent to which the cancerous cells have spread inside the patient’s body. The way chemotherapy is given depends on the type of cancer the patient is suffering from. Discussed below are some of these methods.
- Oral Chemotherapy: In this method, the drugs are given in the form of pills that can be swallowed. Oral chemotherapy can be taken at home also hence the patient does not need to go to the hospital to complete the cycle prescribed.
- Intravenous Chemotherapy: In this method, the drugs are injected through the vein that connects to the affected area to destroy the cancerous cells present in that area. The patient is advised to go to the chemotherapy centre and complete the cycle. Either the patient is admitted or the patient is allowed to go home after the chemotherapy drug is given intravenously. This depends on the combination being given and the way the patient’s body reacts to the administered combination.
- Intra-arterial Chemotherapy: In this method, the drugs are directly injected into the artery connecting to the affected area. In this form of chemotherapy, the patient can be advised not to go home after the treatment. Intra-arterial chemotherapy is mostly given to the patients suffering from lung cancer.
- Intravesical Chemotherapy: In this method, the drugs are passed to the affected area through a catheter. These drugs travel through the bloodstream and destroy the cancer cells present in the bladder. BCG vaccine is the most commonly given vaccine in case of intravesical chemotherapy.
- Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy: In this method, the drugs are passed through the abdominal cavity using a catheter. This catheter is placed attached to the abdominal wall so that it drains the administered intraperitoneal chemotherapy drugs into the abdominal cavity.
- Topical Chemotherapy: In this method, the drugs, in the form of creams or gels, are applied to the affected area of the skin. The patient does not need to go to the hospital to complete the cycles of chemotherapy, these creams or gels can be applied at home. Topical chemotherapy is used to cure skin cancer.
Different Chemotherapy Agents Used for Cancer Treatment
The chemotherapy drugs agents- used for the treatment of cancer and are divided in different groups or classes, depending on their mechanism of action and the contents of the drugs. Discussed below are the groups or classes of these drugs.
- Alkylating Agents: Alkylating agents are nitrogen compounds. These are negatively charged and hence attack the positively charged sulfur, phosphorous or oxygen atoms present in the DNA of the cell. After attacking, they bind themselves to this DNA and interfere in the functioning of the cell. This DNA alkylation leads to the breaking of the DNA strand and causes DNA cross-linking, thus altering the activity of the cell and ultimately killing it. Some of the alkylating agents include busulfan, chlorambucil, dacarbazine, cyclophosphamide and melphalan.
- Antimetabolites: Drugs belonging to the antimetabolite group react with the metabolic pathway of the patient’s body. These drugs are mistaken as normal metabolities by the cells of the body. Thus these react with the DNA of the cancer cells and stop them from further division. Antimetabolites are mostly used to cure lymphoma, breast, colon, bladder and head and neck cancer. Methotrexate is the commonly used antimetabolite to cure such cancers. Another antimetabolite used to kill the cancer cells is 5-Fluorouracil which is also used to kill the above mentioned cancers along with stomach, pancreatic, anal and esophageal cancer. Fludarabine, cytarabine, thioguanine and gemcitabine are some of the other commonly prescribed antimetabolites to kill the cancer cells present in the patient’s body.
- Anthracyclines: Anthracyclines work by the formation of free oxygen radicals which cause breaking of DNA strand in the cancer cells. These anthracyclines then stop the functioning of the DNA, they react with, thus killing them. Epirubicin and mitoxantrone are some of the commonly used anthracyclines to kill the cancer cells.
- Taxanes: Taxanes specifically react in the M phase of the cell cycle. They attach themselves with the microtubules and kill them. They are used to treat prostrate, ovarian, bladder, stomach esophageal and head and neck cancer. Docetaxel and paclitaxel are the commonly prescribed taxanes by most of the oncologists.
- Monoclonal Antibodies: Monoclonal antibodies react with the cancer specific antigens only and kill them by targeting the DNA or immune system of the cell. These are given when the patient’s body does not respond to any other form of treatment or when some protein is found to be responsible for the growth of the cancer cells in the patient’s body. Trastuzumab, bevacizumab and cetuximab are some of the commonly given monoclonal antibodies.
Side Effects of Chemotherapy Treatment for Cancer
Though effective, there are side effects of chemotherapy treatment for cancer. These include diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, vomiting and loss of appetite, constipation and weakness. Other side effects commonly associated with chemotherapy treatment includes hair loss, dry skin, dry mouth, mouth sores, swelling with pain, susceptibility to infection, blood in urine, frequent urination and infertility are also experienced by some of the patients.
Chemotherapy treatment for cancer is effective and helps the patient to enjoy a healthy life after chemotherapy. If the patient follows the diet and exercises given by his oncologists, then his chances of living a good life also increases.