What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a treatment used to treat different kinds of cancer by destroying cancer cells. What is chemotherapy?Drugs used for this treatment are called “anticancer” drugs. Cancer is disease that is caused by uncontrolled growth of cells. Chemotherapy is meant for the treatment of cancer however, it is also used to treat non-cancerous conditions. There are about 200 types of cancer, which are treated by using various ways with the help of over 50 types of cancer chemotherapy drugs.

How Chemotherapy Works

Control of growth and death of cells are very normal conditions. However, this situation changes when cancer occurs. During this situation normal cells get divided to form more cells without control. Anticancer drugs are helpful to destroy growth of cancer cells. Sometime healthy cells divide quickly or may get harmed. Drug reaches to cancer cells very quickly when it runs through blood. Each drug has different effects and we may use it in combination also. Chemotherapy drugs use several ways to destroy cancer cells. Also, there are other drugs used for treating cancer. These drugs directly block the effects of your body hormone. Also by using biological therapy we can boost immune system and treat substances present in our body. Usually theses substances fight against cancer and several other diseases, but available in small amount in our body. These substances can be made in laboratory and we can use them to destroy cancer cells or to change the way of reaction of body to a tumor. We get good results but sometimes chemotherapy side effects may also occur. However, plus point is if therapy is successful, cancer cells should disappear permanently.

During the treatment of cancer healthy part of our body can get affected by chemotherapy drugs. The health parts of our body include:

  • Our digestive system
  • The hair follicles
  • The bone marrow (function of this is to make blood cells)
  • Lining present in our mouth

Chemotherapy treatment is done with a series of sessions and each session is followed by some rest period. In each session most of cancer cells get destroyed and the rest period helps for recovery of normal cells and tissues.

Treatment Procedure:

Chemotherapy Treatment This treatment is used for many types of cancer and it is based on:

  • Type of cancer
  • The part of body affected by cancer
  • Your health
  • Effect of cancer on your body functions

Chemotherapy treatment is received in cycles depending on condition or growth of cells and drugs used for it. Cycle treatment continues from day to several weeks according to condition of disease. Drugs can be taken in different forms decided by doctor according to the type of cancer you have. Time period during each treatment helps your body to rest and produce new and healthy cells. There are some examples of chemotherapy forms:

  • Intravenous (IV) - In this treatment chemotherapy is injected into the vein using needle through skin. It permits rapid distribution of chemotherapy through out the whole body.
  • Oral- In this form of chemotherapy you can swallow the pills through mouth.
  • Injection - In this process drug is injected into muscles or into a cancerous area, using needle.
  • Topical- This type of drug is applied to the skin to treat localized skin cancer.

If the treatment is done by feeding drug directly into the bloodstream, it is called intravenous chemotherapy. Following are some ways that are used to introduce the chemotherapy drugs to your body.

  • A portable catheter - In this process a thin tube is used to put into vein in arm or chest.
  • A central line- A central line is a thin tube that leads from the kin of your chest to main vein near heart. As it is on the left side of your body medicines are injected through it when you need them.
  • A peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line- In this process a thin tube is placed into a vein present in crook of your arm and threaded to vein till it is in vein near to heart. This PICC line can stay in place as it is for few months.
  • An infusion pump- This pump is attached to the central line or PICC line. This treatment provides good results because it feeds correct dose of chemotherapy into bloodstream over a few days.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy:

Target of chemotherapy is not only to destroy cancer cells but also prevent healthy cells from getting divided rapidly. There may be chances of side effects that are temporary or long term side effects. However, every time drug is not a cause for side effect. Following are some side effects of chemotherapy.

  • Hair loss
  • Dryness of mouth and change in sense of taste
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling sick and vomiting
  • Swelling with pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Bleeding
  • Nausea
  • Sores of mouth (stomatitis)
  • Susceptibility to infection
  • Infertility
  • Numbness in your feet and hands
  • Damage of heart, nerve, lung, liver
  • Changes in hearing
  • Skin changes like dryness and discolored
  • Get infection easily
  • Tiredness
  • Infertility

The above are temporary side effects that end on type of drug or combination of drug you are taking and the period of your drug course. Mostly these side effects stop as your treatment stops. We may control these side effects using other medicines. Many of these side effects are very common as weakness or sickness and we may control them by using anti-emetic medicines. There are different types of side effects due to the chemotherapy drugs, so you have to consult to doctor before treatment.

Side effects like organ damage include the problems of heart, lungs and kidneys, nerve damage. These are long term side effects. Blood in urine is known as hemorrhagic cystitis and it is also a long term side effect. Cancer includes certain diseases like Hodgkin’s disease, non Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia and some types of tumors are also considered as long life side effects.

Feelings During Chemotherapy:

You may feel fear, anxiety and depression during chemotherapy treatment. Additionally, it is also important how you are feeling physically. However, many peoples like to collect information about the disease they have. You have to find out the much more information and do not afraid to ask questions. Some people avoid you because of lack of knowledge of cancer and its treatment. It will be better if you talk to others openly about illness, needs, feelings and treatments of cancer. You should be fit by physically as well as mentally. During chemotherapy you may lose concentration that affects your ability to listen and understand. Therefore you have to take help from your friends, partner or any family member at your treatment visit.

You may feel tired and listless during chemotherapy treatment. You may get tired very soon after some normal activities, but it is normal condition during this period. To avoid this you have to plan your daily activities due to the energy required for it. Take rest after each energetic activity. If you get tired easily then finish your important work first. You may take help from your family members for the activities like cooking, chores and many more. Part time work will be better for you. You must have to conserve your energy for the important event of your life by avoiding extra work.