Chemotherapy – Cancer Treatment

Chemotherapy is considered one of the most effective treatments for cancer.  It’s a treatment, designed to slow or stop the growth of rapidly dividing cancer cells in the body with the help of anti-cancer drugs. A wide range of drugs is used for the success of chemotherapy. However, the effectiveness of treatment depends to some extent on the stage of the cancer being treated.

Chemotherapy Delivery Methods

When chemo drugs are directed to a specific part of the body, it is called regional chemotherapy.

When chemotherapy drugs are injected into the bloodstream to reach cells throughout the body, it is called systemic chemotherapy.

Some chemotherapy delivery methods include:

  • Orally (by mouth – in the form of liquid or as a pill)
  • Topically (as a cream on the skin)
  • Intravenously (by infusion into a vein)
  • Injection
  • Direct placement through a lumbar puncture or device placed under the scalp)

Goals of chemotherapy

The three main goals of chemotherapy are:

  1. Cure
  2. Control
  3. Palliation

Cure – Chemotherapy is done to cure cancer. However, there is no guarantee of a cure. In many cases, it often takes years’ to know when an individual is really cured or not.

Control – If a cure is not possible, the goal is to control the cancer disease. Chemotherapy is done to shrink tumours and/or stop cancer from growing and spreading. This can help an individual to live longer. However, cancer doesn’t completely go away and is expected to come back.

Palliation – Chemo that has done to ease cancer symptoms is known as palliative chemotherapy or palliation. This is usually done at an advanced stage of cancer – when cancer is not under control and has spread to the other body parts. In this case, chemo is used to help shrink a tumour that’s causing pain or pressure.

How is chemotherapy used?

Sometimes, chemotherapy treats cancer by itself, but more often it’s used in combination with:

  • Surgery – In this, an oncologist removes tissue, or a tumour, or organs contaminated with cancerous cells.
  • Radiation therapy – A healthcare provider uses radioactive particles to destroy cancer cells. A special machine is used for radiation therapy. This machine attacks parts of your body from the outside, or by putting radioactive material near, on, and even inside your body.
  • Biological therapy – Living material in the form of vaccines, bacteria, or antibodies are carefully introduced to the body to kill cancer cells.

Chemotherapy may be used to:

  • Destroy any remaining cancer cells post-surgery or radiation therapy. It is known as adjuvant chemotherapy
  • Shrink the size of a tumour before surgery or radiation therapy. This is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy
  • Make biological or radiation therapies more effective
  • Destroy cancer cells that might return or spread to other parts of the body

Side effects of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is designed to destroy cells that divide quickly. However, chemo affects other good cells of the body too. This may result in various side effects such as hair loss, anaemia, loss of appetite, hair loss, fever, insomnia, fertility issues, constipation, nerve damage, fatigue, dry mouth, diarrhoea, and more. Your healthcare provider can help you manage these side effects with certain medications, lifestyle changes, and more.

Most of the side effects lessen when treatment is over. However, there is always a risk of long-lasting side effects. These effects could include damage to the:

  • Lungs
  • Heart
  • Reproductive organs
  • Kidneys
  • Nerves

If you or any member of yours is struggling with cancer, you need to be sure there is no guarantee for a cancer cure. It can come back at any stage of your life. So before beginning treatment, talk to your doctor about the possible risks and what symptoms you should be aware of.

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