What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses powerful chemicals to kill fast-growing cells in your body.

Chemotherapy is most often used to treat cancer, since cancer cells grow and multiply much more quickly than most cells in the body.

Many different drugs are available. Chemotherapy drugs can be used alone or in combination to treat a wide variety of cancers.

Though chemotherapy treatment is an effective way to treat many types of cancer, treatment also carries a risk of side effects. Some types chemotherapy side effects are mild and treatable, while others can cause serious complications.

How Does Chemotherapy Works?

Chemotherapy or cytotoxic drugs are those which are poisonous (toxic) to cancer cells. Most drugs enter the bloodstream to reach the cancer cells or they may be given directly to the cancer site.

Normally, cells continue to divide and replace cells that are damaged, or they may die and stop reproducing when enough cells are present. These cells interact with each other and stick together.

Sending signals to nearby cells to stop growing and creating a balance to allow the body to function normally. Cancer cells, however, act differently. They grow and multiply out of control, occupy more space, become detached from neighboring cells, and spread to other parts of the body.

Chemotherapy drugs act by killing cancer cells or stopping them from multiplying. Various drugs do this in different ways but all of them work to interfere with the cancer cell’s ability to divide and reproduce.

They can block the cells from receiving nutrients or prevent the growth of blood vessels. Which are needed for the growth and survival of cancer cells. Other drugs act directly on the genetic material to interfere with the cancer cell’s ability to reproduce or cause suicide of cancer cells.

How is chemotherapy used?

The goal of chemotherapy is to kill cancer cells or slow down its growth. For some types of cancer, this treatment may be the only form of treatment needed. In most cases, treatment is given in addition to other types of main treatment, like surgery, radiation therapy, or biological therapy.

Chemotherapy that is given after the main treatment, such as surgery or radiation therapy is called adjuvant chemotherapy. This is done in order to kill any remaining cancer cells that may be present. Or those that have spread from the main cancer site, or to prevent the possibility of the cancer recurring.

If a tumor is large, growing and dividing drugs may be given to decrease its size. Chemotherapy given with other forms of treatment, like biological therapy, aims to lessen side effects and make the immune system stronger.

The type of drugs used will depend on the type of cancer and where it began. The size of the tumor, whether it has spread to other parts of the body. The patient’s age and general health status, and the patient’s preferences (what treatment they want or are prepared to have).

Why is chemotherapy given?

Chemotherapy is given for a variety of reasons and depending on the patient’s condition. Cure is the aim in most cases. This can be achieved with a single drug or in combination with surgery or radiation therapy to kill cancer cells that have spread away from the tumor.

If a cure cannot be achieved, chemotherapy is given to prevent the cancer from returning or limit its spread so that it progresses less rapidly. In the case of advanced cancer, chemotherapy is given to relieve symptoms, such as pain caused by the tumor. This is called palliative chemotherapy.

How is chemotherapy given?

Depending on the type of cancer, a patient may be given a single drug, called monotherapy, or more than one drug, called combination therapy. Chemotherapy can be taken at home or in a doctor’s clinic as an outpatient. When the treatment requires the patient to stay a day or more in the hospital.

Chemotherapy drugs can be taken orally as a tablet or liquid, as a cream, or injected into different parts of the body. A cancer patient can take their chemotherapy tablets at home but will need to visit their doctor regularly and strictly follow the treatment schedule.

Chemotherapy drugs may be injected directly into the bloodstream, called intravenous chemotherapy. Drugs may also be introduced through IV infusion, where they are slowly released over several hours to a few days.

They may also injected under the skin (subcutaneous). Directly into the muscle (intramuscular). Into the spine (intrathecal).

Also Into an artery that is directly connected to a tumor (intra-arterial). Or into the area that contains the stomach, liver, intestines, and other organs in the abdomen (intraperitoneal).

A chemotherapy regimen may be given daily, weekly, or every two or three weeks, depending on the type of cancer.

Each treatment is given in “cycles.” A cycle is a period of treatment followed by a rest. Period to allow for recovery of the patient and the patient’s blood forming cells in the bone marrow.

A rest may last for one week, or it may be longer, depending upon the regimen. There are certain common side effects