Many people hear the word “Chemotherapy” and are immediately intimidated. Receiving a cancer diagnosis for many is hard, and sometimes patients who don’t completely understand how chemotherapy affects the body may be scared about the treatment that follows. It is important to be as educated as possible when it comes to your cancer and treatment options available. Knowledge is power, and researching what chemotherapy entails takes the intimidation away from a treatment designed to rid the body of cancer.
The Basics – What is Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy, also known as chemo, is a type of treatment that uses drugs to target and destroy cancer cells. It works to slow or in some cases stop the growth of cancer cells that can grow and divide quickly. Chemo cannot target cancer cells alone, and sometimes in the process of targeting these cancerous cells some healthy cells are also affected. What this means is that some side effects may become apparent, such as hair loss, however the good news is that once treatment is completed these side effects usually subside.
Chemo can help to control and cure cancer, and in the cases where the cancer has progressed to its final stages ease cancer symptoms, improving the quality of life for these patients. Many times chemotherapy is used as a standalone treatment, and in other cases it is paired with surgery, radiation and biological therapy. No two people are exactly the same, so a physician will assess the cancer and offer customized treatment options to aid in ridding the body of cancer.
Some benefits to chemotherapy include:
- Help aid surgical procedures or radiation therapy by making tumors smaller. This types of chemo is known as Neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
- Help destroy cancer cells that may remain in the body after surgery or radiation therapy. This type of chemotherapy is known as Adjuvant chemotherapy.
- Help assist in improving the success rates of radiation therapy and biological therapy.
- Help destroy cancer cells that are recurring or have metastasized.
Chemotherapy can be administered in a variety of different places – hospital, doctor’s office, clinic, outpatient units and even in the comfort of your home. Depending on pre-existing health problems, such as diabetes, type and stage of cancer, your physician and their team will make any necessary changes to the drugs used during chemotherapy.
Treatment schedules will vary, as each person is different. Chemotherapy is usually administered in cycles, which is a period of treatment followed by a period of rest. The rest period gives your body the opportunity to rebuild healthy cells.
Factors that affect treatment include:
- Specific type of cancer and how advanced it is
- Treatment goals (whether is used to cure your cancer, control its growth, or ease the symptoms)
- Type of chemotherapy
- How the body will react to chemotherapy
The most common treatment side effect is fatigue, however many people experience different side effects. One factor is how healthy an individual is before receiving treatment, therefore it is important to live a healthy lifestyle and continue to practice healthy behaviors during and after treatment.