Coined by the German biochemist Paul Ehrlich, the term chemotherapy means – treatment by chemical substances. Therefore, chemotherapy is all about using chemical drugs and powerful medicines to kill cancer cells.
Here’s all you need to know about chemotherapy:
The drugs used for chemotherapy have one thing in common – they all are attracted to and attack cells that grow rapidly. Cancer cells, which are known for their infamous trait of multiplying speedily and spreading quickly, are naturally the best prey for chemotherapy drugs. They harm the DNA of each cancer cell. As a result, the cancer cell loses its ability to divide and multiply further or is triggered by a ‘suicide’ effect and dies.
How does it happen?
Depending upon the type, stage and location of cancer, chemotherapy can be administered in the following ways
- As a skin cream
- Intravenously – medicine slowly infused into the veins over a period of a couple of hours
- Intramuscularly – medicine injected into a muscle
- Intrathecally – medicine injected into the spine and brain
- Intra-arterially – medicine injected into the artery that’s connected to the tumour
- Orally – In the form of tablets and capsules
The entire chemotherapy is divided into sessions with a gap of one to three weeks between each session. The gap (resting period) is needed for the body to effectively recoup from the impactful effects of these strong drugs before the next session.
Who is an ideal candidate?
Since drugs and chemicals have a toll on the liver – the filter station of our body – the patient’s liver needs to be healthy in order to go ahead with chemotherapy. Also, a low count of platelets or RBCs and WBCs can call for postponing the chemotherapy sessions.
When does it happen?
Depending upon the stage, type and location of cancer and the patient’s health conditions, chemotherapy can be used either –
- As the sole cure
- As a means to reduce the symptoms if a cure is not possible
- To shrink the cancerous tumour before surgery or radiotherapy (neoadjuvant chemotherapy)
- As a double-check step to kill cancer cells that have spread in other parts of the body once the tumour is removed (adjuvant chemotherapy)
Why is it assumed to be notorious?
Drugs used in chemotherapy are designed to kill any set of cells that show the characteristic of growing rapidly. That is why the chemicals cannot differentiate between a life-threatening cancer cell and healthy cells of hair follicles, the mouth, the gastrointestinal lining, reproductive organs and bone marrow as these cells too have the nature of growing fast. Therefore, one experiences hair-loss (often temporary), nausea, fatigue, infections (due to low immunity), bleeding nose/ gums (due to low platelets), reduced appetite and infertility (sometimes).
The good news is that well-established hospitals like Regency Healthcare provide thorough measures to reduce or counter these side-effects like using cold-caps for hair-loss; freezing sperms or eggs for the future; etc. If you’d like to know more, do visit us.