Cancer is not one disease. It is a group of more than hundreds of different types of diseases. For most cancers, treatment typically involves a combination of surgery, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, or chemotherapy, which helps cure the disease in some cases, and prolong survival in others.
Chemotherapy targets cells that grow and divide rapidly, as cancerious cells do. Unlike surgery or radiation therapy that targets specific areas, chemotherapy works throughout the body. However, this therapy can also affect some fast-growing healthy cells, which as those of the skin, intestines, hair and bone marrow. This causes the side-effects of the treatment
Does chemotherapy work to cure cancer?
Since cancer is a broad term to mention, it is more specific to ask if chemotherapy cures a certain type of cancer.
Yes, chemotherapy does give better odds of survival (about 14 months longer) to patients, when compared to those treated without chemo. However, the results may vary from patient to patient.
Each year more than 650000 people receive chemotherapy from an outpatient clinic. Though there’s no guarantee for success, chemotherapy does prove to help fight back with cancer cells.
What does chemotherapy do?
Chemotherapy depends on the kind of cancer you have and how far along the cancer is.
1. Cure: In some instances, chemotherapy can destroy cancerous cells to the point that the doctor can no longer detect them in your body. Subsequent to that, the best result is that they never grow back again which, however, does happen not always.
2. Control: In some instances, chemo may only be able to keep cancer from spreading to other regions of the body or, slow the growth of cancerous tumours.
3. Ease symptoms: In certain instances, it can not cure or control the spread of cancer and is used simply to shrink tumours that may cause pain or pressure. Often, such tumours continue to grow back.
How is chemotherapy used?
Oftentimes, cancer cells are treated alone by chemo drugs but other times it is used in combination with surgery, radiation and biological therapy to increase its effect.
Chemotherapy drugs are used to:
● Shrink the size of the tumour before therapy is applied – called neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
● Destroy any trace of the remaining cancer-causing cells after therapy is done – called adjuvant chemotherapy.
● Increase the efficiency of other therapies when applied after the chemotherapy.
● Decrease those cancer cells that would relapse and could adversely affect other parts of the body.
Why is chemotherapy done?
If your doctor has prescribed chemotherapy as a treatment choice for your cancer, it is important to know the goals with this therapy.
Mainly, chemotherapy in cancer care treatment has three primary objectives:
1. Cure: Often, the purpose of chemotherapy is to eliminate and cure the cancer to the point that it becomes undetectable, but many times a cancer may recur. Completely curing a cancer is one solution to give a better after-life to the patient.
2. Delaying cancer growth: Primarily, your doctor may advise chemotherapy to delay or slow cancer growth. It will prevent cancer from spreading to other parts of your body. In such cases, chemo is used to reduce the size of a tumor for surgical removal or prepare you for radiation therapy.
3. Minimizing symptoms: It is also used to reduce cancer-related symptoms. This is called palliative chemotherapy . Chemotherapy cannot cure or control cancer spread in some cases and is primarily used to shrink a tumor that causes pain or discomfort.
Why does chemotherapy cause side effects?
The fact that chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells that rapidly divide is true, but they affect other rapidly dividing cells in the body as well.
Easy bruising, hair loss, dry mouth, skin changes, and sleeplessness are common side effects. Other frequent side effects include nausea and fatigue. As common nausea is, it affects people differently. Chemotherapy can also be a reason for diarrhea, loss of hearing, and lost sex drive.
According to the National Cancer Institute, “Up to 96% of patients experience fatigue and lethargy as common symptoms during treatment.”
How is chemotherapy performed?
Your doctor will determine which drugs or combination of drugs would be given . Chemotherapy is usually given through IV, and your doctor will determine the doses, how often it is to be given, and how long the treatment is extended.
The chemotherapy regimen will be custom-made for you. It could be modified if your body is unable to handle the treatment well, even if the cancer cells respond well to the therapy.
How are chemotherapy drugs given?
The methods used for the delivery of chemotherapy include:
1. Injection: The chemo drugs can be straight injected into the muscle, or arm, through an injection for direct application.
2. Intra-arterial (IA): The chemo drugs can also be injected via a thin tube (catheter) to the artery, so the drugs get mixed with bloodstream for faster effect.
3. Intraperitoneal (IP): With the doctor’s help the drug can be administered during a surgery through a special port directly to the peritoneal cavity, which contains organs.
4. Intrathecal (IT) chemotherapy: The chemo medicine can be injected into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is an area surrounded by the spinal cord and brain.
5. Topical use: The medical creams can be rubbed from onto the skin.
6. Oral Medication: A pill can be swallowed directly from the mouth.
How long does the treatment take?
It depends on the type of cancer and its duration. Your oncologist may use chemotherapy in different ways at different times. Normally, chemotherapy is done for a limited time duration depending on the type and stage of cancer. The doctor will make a plan after diagnosing cancer, and then the course of treatment is determined that varies from six months to one year, or for as long as it is required.
Many side effects of these drugs are too severe to give every day. Doctors normally administer these drugs with breaks, so you have time to relax and heal before the next dose. This will restore healthy cells in the body.
For instance, on the first day, a dose of chemotherapy is given, followed by a 3 weeks rest-period, and so on before it repeats. This is called a 3-week treatment cycle. Several cycles make up a chemotherapy course.
Some cancers need less time between cycles to heal. This is called a dose-dense schedule. It makes chemotherapy against certain cancers more effective. However, the chance of side-effects also increases.
Results of chemotherapy
Cancer therapy is always personalized, so the treatments and results may vary. During the treatment, the physician and your cancer treatment team will monitor the success of your progress periodically.
These will include scans, blood testing, and probably more. Your doctor can adjust the dosages and treatment cycle at any time, thereby improving the patient’s prognosis.
The bottom line
Speak to your doctor about chemotherapy’s effects on you, specifically to better understand it and have a more informed experience. As cancer treatment ends, be prepared to get back to normal life and remember the good news: you are one of the millions fighting cancers, and survival rates are improving at all times.
Have questions about chemotherapy?
Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment.
1. Can I miss one dose of chemotherapy?
Ideally, the chemotherapy dose should not be missed. But sometimes, when your doctor or nurse changes your chemotherapy plan, then a break is admitted. This could be because of your side effects or moving to the next stage of treatment. If this happens, the doctor will discuss what you should do and when to begin treatment again.
2. Can I work during the treatment?
Many people request to work during chemotherapy. It will depend on the type of work you do. It might also depend on whether the job is part-time or full-time. Talk with your doctor and adjust your work hours, so you don’t miss a beat to meet your treatment needs.
3. Does chemotherapy hurt?
In chemotherapy, having a needle inserted can feel like having blood drawn. Only the first injection can be uneasy if you have a temporary tube (cannula) on your hand or arm. It should not be uncomfortable if you have anything more permanent, like a central venous access device or port. Your oncologist will inform you what method is best for your case.
Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment.