Treating Cancer with Chemotherapy

Cancer is a life-threatening disease wherein body cells grow uncontrollably, forming a lump of tissues or tumor. Cancer is caused due to DNA mutation, and the cancer cells can spread to other body organs, infiltrating and damaging the normal tissues. Though cancer is the second-leading cause of death globally, survival rates are improving due to advancements and improvements in cancer screening methods, treatment techniques, and prevention measures. The different approaches utilized for treating cancer include:

  • Surgery – the infected body part is removed by surgical methods

  • Radiation therapy - uses high doses of radiation to kill fast-growing malignant cells in a specific body area.

  • Drug therapy - uses particular drugs and powerful chemicals to kill cancerous cells.

  • Hormone therapy

  • Immunotherapy

  • Targeted therapy

  • Chemotherapy

What is Chemotherapy?

The most prevalent cancer treatment technology is chemotherapy, which uses one or more anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells and prevent tumor growth. Chemotherapy is an aggressive form of chemical drug therapy, generally systemic, in which drugs circulate in the bloodstream throughout the body, killing the cancer cells that have metastasized to other body parts from the primary tumor. There is a wide range of chemotherapy drugs that can be used alone or in combination to treat different types of cancers. Chemotherapy technique is chiefly recommended in cancer treatment as it assists in:

  • Curing cancer without the use of other treatments

  • Destroying cancerous cells, if any, left undetected

  • Shrinking the tumor, allowing for other therapies such as radiation and surgery

  • Alleviating symptoms and signs of the disease

Some chemotherapy drugs are effective in the treatment of other conditions, such as:

  • Diseases of the bone marrow: A bone marrow transplant, also known as a stem cell transplant, can treat conditions affecting the bone marrow and blood cells. Chemotherapy is frequently used in the preparation of a bone marrow transplant.

  • Immune system dysfunction: In particular diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, lower doses of chemotherapy drugs can help control an overactive immune system.

How does chemotherapy work?

Chemotherapy can be used alone or in combination with other therapies, like radiation, or surgery, depending upon:

  • The stage and severity of cancer

  • Type of cancer

  • Location of the cancer cells

  • The overall health of the patient

  • Individual's treatment preferences

Chemotherapy work against cancer cells in multiple ways:

  • By causing genetic damage within the nucleus of the cancerous cells

  • By damaging the malignant cells at the point of division.

  • By causing damage to the part of the cell's control center that causes the cell to divide.

  • By interfering with the chemical processes that occur during cell division.

In chemotherapy, the anti-cancer drugs may be administered intravenously (IV), as an injection, or a shot, orally, or even topically, depending upon the clinical circumstances. However, some cancers don't respond well to systemic chemotherapy; in such cases, chemotherapy is delivered to a specific area of the body.

What are the side effects of chemotherapy?

Though chemotherapy procedures are highly effective against cancer, they are widely associated with multiple mild and chronic side effects. To a large extent, healthy cells of blood, hair, bone marrow, skin, and lining of the intestine are adversely impacted by chemotherapy drugs. This condition develops certain symptoms like:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Fatigue

  • Alopecia

  • Anemia

  • Easy bruising and excessive bleeding

  • Concentration and memory problem

  • Changes in skin and nail

  • Changes in fertility and libido

  • Loss of appetite

  • Dry mouth

  • Mouth sores

  • Fever

  • Weight loss

  • Infections 

Mostly, the side effects of chemotherapy subside when the treatment is over. The risk of long-lasting adverse effects may develop even years after treatment, depending on the chemotherapy used. These include damage to the following organs:

  • Heart

  • Kidneys

  • Lungs

  • Nervous system

  • Reproductive organs

The Bottom Line

Despite the potential side effects, chemotherapy is the only practical, effective, and reliable treatment for cancer to date. Some forms of cancer are susceptible to chemotherapy, and the individual can get rid of cancerous cells from his body. However, there is always a possibility for cancer to return. Therefore, even after the completion of the treatment, regular check-ups and frequent follow-ups are recommended.

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