Chemotherapy – An Overview

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The type of treatment focuses on the anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs, for destroying the cancerous cells

Image by franziskas garten
Image by franziskas garten

including lymphoma and leukaemia, is called Chemotherapy. It can be used as an isolated treatment for some types of cancers or as a mixture with other cancer treatments like radiotherapy, surgery, hormonal therapy or biological therapies.

The Reasons of Giving Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is suggested widely to treat some kinds of cancer, especially which can metastasize in other parts, because it invades all the cancerous cells present in the whole body. While other treatments only focus on the cancer cells at specific areas.

  • It may be given to shrink a cancer so that in the second step like surgery it can be removed easily.
  • Likewise chemotherapy may be used to destroy the remaining cells after a surgery or radiotherapy to improve the results.
  • This treatment can prolong life by shrinking the cancer and minimizing its development. This therapy is called Palliative Chemotherapy

The Selection of Chemotherapy Schedule

The nature of chemicals to destroy the cancer depends on many factors such as the type, stage, and structure of cancerous cells. Moreover, the age, general health and tendency to endure the  short term side effects of the suggested chemotherapy.

More than 50 chemotherapy drugs are available among which some are given alone while the others are given in a combination of drugs known as Combination Chemotherapy.

Time to Apply Chemotherapy

There are some conditions or stages when Chemotherapy is used; Primary or Neo-adjuvant Chemotherapy and Post or Adjuvant Chemotherapy, Chemo-radiation or Chemoradiotherapy and Stem Cell Support.

Primary Chemotherapy ( Neo-adjuvant Chemotherapy)

When chemotherapy is used to shrink a large cancer growth or those which are adjacent to the healthy tissues, it is called Primary or Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy. This makes easy the removal of  the cancerous cells during surgery.

Post or Adjuvant Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can also be given after a surgery or radiotherapy to remove or destroy the remaining invisible cancerous cell in the body. This is called Post or Adjuvant Chemotherapy.

Chemoradiotherapy

In some cases, chemotherapy is given along with radiotherapy, it is called Chemo-radiation or Chemoradiotherapy.

In Metastasized Cancers

When cancer has been spread  to other parts of body, Chemotherapy is used to destroy or shrink the cancerous cells and extend life by controlling the cancer to sprout.

High-dose Chemotherapy and Bone Marrow or Stem Cell  Transplant

In some cases after initial chemotherapy, High-dose Chemotherapy is done to extinct the high risk of cancer to come back. This procedure destroys the bone marrow, so it is replaced by the stem cells gathered from the bone marrow or blood of the patient or a donor. But this treatment is used in specific types of cancer.

The Procedure of Giving Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is generally given in a series based on the state of the patient and chemistry of the suggested drugs. The series may comprise of daily, weekly or monthly intake of the drugs along with a recovery episode to allow the body to generate new and healthy cells.

Chemotherapy drugs are available in a number of forms. Doctor selects the form or forms of drugs by analyzing the nature and type of cancer. Some kinds of Chemotherapy are as follows:

Oral Chemotherapy

It is given in the form of pills or tablets.

Topical Chemotherapy

It is used to treat localized cancers by applying the drug on the skin.

Intravenous (IV) Chemotherapy

In this type of chemotherapy, a needle infused the drug into a vein, through skin, that let the quick supply of the chemotherapy in the whole body.

Chemotherapy through Injection

An injection is directly injected into the cancerous area or under skin muscle through a needle.

Mechanism of Chemotherapy Drugs

Chemotherapy drugs affected the cancerous cells by traveling in the bloodstream and reaching all over the body. Sometimes the healthy cells are also damaged by chemotherapy but they can be reproduced or recovered when the effects of chemotherapy are disappeared from the body. That’s y the mechanism is consisted of many cycles following a rest period after each cycle. In each session the cancerous cells are destroyed as much as possible while rest period permits the healthy cells to recover. Different drugs destroy cancer cells in various orders. Sometimes a combination of drugs is applied in which each drug is selected due to its different effects.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

As chemotherapy reaches the whole body so it often causes damages to the healthy cells along with destruction of the cancerous cells. Every chemotherapy drug has different side effects if compared to others. Normally the areas which are more sensitive to chemotherapy include; lining of the mouth, digestive system, hair follicles under, skin and bone marrow. In some patients these side effects can be few while in others they may be a lot. Some last as temporary side effects and some will remain longer.

Temporary Side Effects

They can be appeared in the form of vomiting, dry mouth, nausea, constipation, bleeding, infertility, fatigue, hair loss, mouth sores (stomatitis), diarrhea, liver damage, changes in the food tastes, loss of appetite, heart damage, difficult or painful swallowing (esophagitis), susceptibility to infection, nerve impairment, or lung damage.

The period, to which these short term side effects sustain, is depended on the drug or the combination of drugs taken for how long. Some side effects disappear as the medication is stopped while some are mitigate by medication.

Late Chemotherapy Side Effects

Some side effects reveal long after the chemotherapy ends. These are rarely found. Though, they should be asked by the doctor before undergoing to any type of chemotherapy. Some long-term effects can be turned as blood in the urine (hemorrhagic cystitis), nerve damage, and organ impairment. Sometimes these side effects appear very aggressively as in the form of another cancer such as Hodgkin’s disease, leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and some tumors.

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