Chemotherapy is a treatment of cancer where medicine is used to kill cancer cells. It may be in the form of tablets or injections into the vein.
It works by stopping cells from multiplying and invading surrounding tissues, and they trigger a self-destruction mechanism within the cancer cells. There is a protocol for chemotherapy and it varies from one cancer type to another. There a 6 cycles, 8 cycles, 12 cycles and such that a patient has to take for the medicine to act properly.
Chemotherapy is used to-------
- to cure cancer: Chemotherapy is toxic to cancer cells and kills them.
- before surgery: It is used before the surgical removal of tumours to reduce the size.
- work with other treatment: It is used in combination with radiotherapy for a more effective outcome of treatment in comparison to just chemotherapy alone.
- reduce the cancer from returning: it is used after surgery, prophylactically, to kill any cancer cells that may remain, and prevent relapse.
- to prolong longevity: it is used as palliative treatment, to prolong the life expectancy, but does not completely get rid of the cancer.
Not all patients can undertake chemotherapy. Delaying treatment or, in some cases, not having chemotherapy may be recommended in patients who----
- are in their first 3 months of pregnancy, as it can cause birth defects
- have low blood levels of blood cells, as chemotherapy may further reduce the count
- have severe kidney or liver disease, as most medicine are broken by these two organs. In kidney and liver diseases the medicine may continue to circulate in the body and cause toxic effects
- have recent surgery or a fresh wound, in which case the healing will be delayed by chemotherapy
- have an infection, because chemotherapy reduces your body’s fighting capacity.
Chemotherapy has saved millions of lives affected with cancer. Nonetheless, like all medicines it does have side effects such as----
- tiredness or fatigue
- nausea and vomiting
- hair loss
- increased risk of infection, as it lowers your body’s ability to fight
- anaemia, as it may suppress the blood cell production
- bruising and bleeding easily
- oral mucositis
- loss of appetite
- dry and sore skin, brittle nails
- short-term memory loss
- sleeping problems
- temporary or permanent loss of fertility
- loss of sexual interest
- diarrhoea and constipation
With all the side effects, some people feel that it is not worth taking the chemotherapy as compared to the poor quality of life. When there is a permanent cure, few side effects can be dealt with temporarily. When it comes to extending few more months of life, some choose not to go through the pain and poisonous effects of it on the body.
Living with and adapting to the side effects of chemotherapy can be challenging. But it's important to realise that most, if not all, side effects will disappear once the treatment is complete.
Some people who are about to start chemotherapy are concerned that the harmful effects of chemotherapy can be passed to other people, particularly people who are vulnerable, such as children or pregnant women. However, there is no risk associated with coming into close contact with someone who is having chemotherapy.