Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells.
Chemotherapy drugs can be given by mouth or injection or through other ways. Because the medicines travel through the blood stream to the entire body, chemotherapy is considered a body-wide (systemic) treatment.
Chemotherapy medicines usually target cells that quickly divide. However, normal cells - including those found in the blood, hair, and the lining of the gastrointestinal tract - also divide very quickly. That means chemotherapy can also damage or kill these healthy cells. When damage to healthy cells occurs, side effects such as nausea, anemia, and hair loss can occur. Some persons who receive chemotherapy also have fatigue, nerve pain, and infection. Often, side effects get better or go away after chemotherapy is over.
Uses of chemotherapy in cancer treatment
As a treatment option for cancer, chemotherapy can be used to:
- Cure cancer by destroying cancer cells to the point where they are no longer detectable in your body and they will not grow back
- Control cancer by keeping cancer from spreading, slowing its growth, or destroying cancer cells that have spread to other parts of your body
- Ease cancer symptoms in palliative care by shrinking tumors that are causing pain or pressure
Chemotherapy may be used as either a stand-alone treatment (i.e. the only cancer treatment) or it may be used in conjunction with surgery, radiation therapy, or biological therapy. Chemotherapy can:
- Make a tumor smaller before surgery or radiation therapy. This is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.
- Destroy cancer cells that may remain after surgery or radiation therapy. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
- Help radiation therapy and biological therapy work better.
- Destroy cancer cells that have come back (recurrent cancer) or spread to other parts of your body (metastatic cancer).
Your course of therapy will depend on the cancer type, the chemotherapy drugs used, the treatment goal and how your body responds. You may get treatment every day, every week or every month. You may have breaks between treatments so that your body has a chance to build new healthy cells. For instance, you might receive 1 week of chemotherapy followed by 3 weeks of rest. These 4 weeks make up one chemotherapy cycle.
This choice of chemotherapy drugs to use depends on:
- The type of cancer you have. Some types of chemotherapy drugs are used for many types of cancer. Other drugs are used for just one or two types of cancer.
- Whether you have had chemotherapy before.
- Whether you have other health problems, such as diabetes or heart disease.
Modes of delivery of chemotherapy drugs
Chemotherapy may be given in many ways:
- Injection: The chemotherapy is given by a shot in a muscle in your arm, thigh, or hip or right under the skin in the fatty part of your arm, leg, or belly.
- Intra-arterial (IA): The chemotherapy goes directly into the artery that is feeding the cancer.
- Intraperitoneal (IP): The chemotherapy goes directly into the peritoneal cavity (the area that contains organs such as your intestines, stomach, liver, and ovaries).
- Intravenous (IV): The chemotherapy goes directly into a vein.
- Topically: The chemotherapy comes in a cream that you rub onto your skin.
- Orally: The chemotherapy comes in pills, capsules, or liquids that you swallow.
Side effects of chemotherapy
Some common side effects from chemotherapy are:
- decreased blood cell counts
- hair loss
- mouth sores
You may have a lot of side effects, some, or none at all. Side effects of chemotherapy depend on many things, including the type of cancer, type and amount of chemotherapy you get, specific drugs being used, and how your body reacts. Newer chemotherapy drugs that better target cancer cells may cause fewer side effects.
How long side effects last depends on your health and the kind of chemotherapy you get. Most side effects go away after chemotherapy is over. But sometimes it can take months or even years for them to go away. Sometimes, chemotherapy causes long-term side effects that do not go away. These may include damage to your heart, lungs, nerves, kidneys, or reproductive organs. Some types of chemotherapy may cause a second cancer years later.
Doctors have many ways to prevent or treat chemotherapy side effects and help you heal after each treatment session.
Before you start chemotherapy, talk with your doctor or nurse about which side effects to expect.
Cost of chemotherapy
The cost of chemotherapy depends on:
- The types and doses of chemotherapy used
- How long and how often chemotherapy is given
- Whether you get chemotherapy at home, in a clinic or office, or during a hospital stay
- Where or which state/country you receive chemotherapy
The cost of chemotherapy is much less in certain countries like India, Singapore, Turkey, etc. where you can get high quality cancer care for a much less price compared to the United States or some other Western countries. This is called medical tourism. Contact Healthbase to learn more about the cost of chemotherapy overseas.
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