Chemotherapy, in its most general sense, refers to treatment of disease by chemicals that kill cells, specifically those of micro-organisms or cancer. Chemotherapy works by destroying cancer cells; unfortunately, it cannot tell the difference between a cancer cell and some healthy cells. Chemotherapy may be given in many ways. It can be administered through a vein, injected into a body cavity, or delivered orally in the form of a pill, depending on which drug is used. Chemotherapy is sometimes used along with other cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy, surgery, or biological therapy (the use of substances to boost the body’s immune system while fighting cancer). Chemotherapy was formed from mustard gases, which was in use as chemical- arms during the 1st World-War. Chemotherapy for the treatment of cancer began in the 1940s with the use of nitrogen mustard.
When cancer treatment includes chemotherapy, patients have many questions. More than half of all people diagnosed with cancer receive chemotherapy. Chemo works by destroying cancer cells; unfortunately, it cannot tell the difference between a cancer cell and some healthy cells. So chemotherapy eliminates not only the fast-growing cancer cells but also other fast-growing cells in your body, including, hair and blood cells.
Your course of therapy will depend on the cancer type, the chemotherapy drugs used, the treatment goal and how your body responds. Adjuvant chemotherapy and radiotherapy are often given following surgery for many types of cancer, including colon cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and some gynaecological cancers. Over time, cancer cells become more resistant to chemotherapy treatments.
Patients who are better prepared tend to have fewer side effects and a higher emotional ability to handle the chemotherapy treatments. Patients receiving chemotherapy are more likely to get infections. Under certain circumstances, your doctor may decide your body is too weak to receive chemotherapy. You may have breaks between treatments so that your body has a chance to build new healthy cells. The side effects of chemotherapy come about because cancer cells aren’t the only rapidly dividing cells in your body. Radiation therapy directs high-energy X-rays at a person’s body to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy also attacks quickly growing cells in your body, but unlike chemotherapy, it affects only the specific area where treatment is concentrated. Biological therapy, also called immunotherapy, consists of treatment with substances that boost the body’s own immune system against cancer.
Receiving chemo during childhood also may place some kids at risk for delayed growth and cognitive development, depending on the child’s age, the type of drug used, the dosage, and whether chemotherapy was used in addition to radiation therapy. People who receive radiation therapy before having chemotherapy may notice that involved skin may turn red, blister, and peel once chemo begins. When a cancer has been removed by surgery or treated with radiation therapy, chemotherapy may be used to keep the cancer from coming back (adjuvant therapy). Given after surgery or radiation, the goal of adjuvant therapy is to eliminate any cancer cells that might linger in your body after earlier treatments. The combination of radiation and chemotherapy can further increase your risk of heart damage.
Chemotherapy is usually administered for approximately 6-12 months or until a patient achieves a plateau response or stable disease, especially if the therapy is well tolerated. Chemotherapy can be frightening to think about. Chemo may cause short term (acute), long term (chronic), and permanent side effects, some of which may be severe. Chemotherapy can have many unpleasant side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, hair loss, mouth sores, Anemia (decreased numbers of red blood cells; may cause fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath) Leukopenia (decreased numbers of white blood cells; may lower resistance to infection), Thrombocytopenia (decreased numbers of platelets; may lead to easy bleeding or bruising), gastrointestinal symptoms, and even heart disease.
There are other options to chemotherapy that are successful in treating cancer but perhaps more important, there are steps we can take to prevent cancer and to avoid the horrible effects of chemo and radiation.