Chemotherapy: The treatment of disease with drugs that directly poison the diseased organism. Most often referred to for cancer treatment, where powerful drugs with potentially sever side effects are used to eliminate or contain the spread of tumors.
In treating physical diseases, probably the most common form of therapy in Western medicine is chemotherapy, or drug therapy. Some physical conditions, where chemotherapy is not the best option, can be corrected through surgery while others may be effectively treated by radiotherapy. Chemotherapy is frequently used in the treatment of cancer, often in combination with surgical treatment and radiotherapy.
Chemotherapy uses powerful anticancer drugs that travel through the bloodstream, making it potentially useful for cancers that have spread. There about 50 different chemotherapeutic drugs that combat cancer, generally administering more than one drug at a time because the drugs are more powerful when combined. The drugs can be taken orally or injected into the bloodstream. They interfere with cancer cells? ability to make new DNA or let DNA reproduce properly.
Which combinations of chemotherapy drugs the patient will receive is based on what the patients doctor thinks will work best for them. The decision depends on what kind of cancer they have, where it is, the extent of its growth, how it is affecting their normal body functions, and their general health.
The doctor also may suggest that they join a clinical trial for chemotherapy. Clinical trials are carefully designed research studies that test promising new cancer treatments. Patients who take part in research may be the first to benefit from improved treatment methods. These patients also can make an important contribution to medical care because the results of the studies may help many people and help scientists learn more about chemotherapy and its possibilities.
Cons of Chemo
As stated, one of the most common treatments for cancer is chemotherapy, and since it kills some normal cells at the same time that it can kill cancerous ones, it has the ability to cause many side effects. These side effects are often very serious. Some side effects of chemotherapy are:
Your immune system could weaken immensely, which would cause you to be very susceptible to infection and other diseases
Sometimes tumors develop a resistance to certain drugs after exposure to it just once, and when this happens there could quite possibly be no drugs effective against this tumor. Some side effects go away fairly rapidly, others take months or years to disappear completely. Sometimes the side effects can last a lifetime, as when chemotherapy causes permanent damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys, or reproductive organs. Certain types of chemotherapy occasionally may cause delayed effects, such as a second cancer, that show up many years later.
Patients sometimes do not know that side effects tell very little about whether or not their chemotherapy is “working”. Sometimes people think that if they don’t have side effects, the drugs aren’t working, or that, if they do have side effects, the drugs are working well. The truth is that side effects vary so much from person to person, and from drug to drug, that having them or not having them usually isn’t a sign of whether the treatment is effective.
Normal cells grow and die in a controlled way. But cancer occurs when cells become abnormal and keep dividing and forming more cells without control or order. Anticancer drugs destroy cancer cells by stopping them from growing or multiplying at one or more points in their life cycle. Because some drugs work better together than alone, chemotherapy often may consist of more than one drug. This is called combination chemotherapy.
If doctors determine that chemotherapy alone is not likely to be successful or if patients relapse after chemotherapy, stem cell transplantation may be performed. Very intensive body radiation or very high doses of chemotherapy or both are used. Chemotherapy is designed to destroy all the leukemic cells in a patient?s body, but also destroys the blood-forming system in the patient?s bone marrow. Chemotherapy can be used as a CURE for a disease or as a treatment that is palliative, or a
Treatment that is for helping the patient to be as comfortable as possible for as long as possible because a cure is not an option.
Most people are able to continue working while they are being treated with anticancer drugs. It may be possible to schedule treatments late in the day or right before the weekend, so they don?t interfere with the patient?s occupation, schooling, etc. Since one of the side effects of chemotherapy is fatigue, sticking to their routine schedule might pose a problem. Under Federal and state laws, some employers may be required to allow the chemotherapy patient to work a flexible schedule to meet their treatment needs.
How often and how long you get chemotherapy depends on the kind of cancer you have, the goals of the treatment, the drugs that are used, and how your body responds to them. You may get chemotherapy every day, every week, or every month. Chemotherapy is often given in on-and-off cycles that include rest periods so that your body has a chance to build healthy new cells and regain its strength. The patient?s doctor should be able to estimate how long they will be getting chemotherapy.
It is very important for the patient to stick with whatever schedule their doctor prescribes. Otherwise, the anti cancer drugs might not have their desired effect. If they were to miss a treatment session or skip a dose of medication, they would have to contact their doctor for instructions about what to do.
Sometimes, the doctor may delay a treatment based on the results of certain blood tests. ( fatigue/anemia side effects) The physician will let them know what to do during this time and when it’s okay to start their treatment sessions again.
How Chemo is administered
Chemotherapy can be given in four different ways:
Into a vein. You will get the drug through a thin needle inserted into a vein, usually on your hand or lower arm. Another way to get IV chemotherapy is by means of a catheter, a thin tube that is placed into a large vein in your body and remains there as long as it is needed. This type of catheter is known as a central venous catheter. Sometimes, a central venous catheter is attached to a port, a small plastic or metal container placed surgically under the skin.
By mouth, in pill, capsule, or liquid form. You will swallow the drug, just as you do many other medications.
Into a muscle, under the skin, or directly into a cancerous area in the skin. You will get an injection with a needle.
Topically. The medication will be applied onto the skin.
Some medicines may interfere with the effects of chemotherapy. That is why patients should take a list of all their medications to their doctor prior to the start of their chemotherapy. Over-the-counter drugs and vitamins as well as prescription drugs should be listed. The doctor informs the patient if he/she should stop taking the medication before they start their chemotherapy.
Cancer and Chemotherapy
By 1999, more than 60% of people diagnosed with cancer were alive five years later, compared to only 25% in 1940. Chemotherapy, all coinciding with surgical procedures and ways of treating cancer with X-rays and radioactive isotope radiation has contributed to the improvement. Today?s chemotherapy regimens have increased the average survival in these patients from about three years to about six years.
In Leukemia the chemotherapy used treats both chronic and acute forms of the disease. In acute leukemias, chemotherapy is very intensive and uses several drugs, either simultaneously or sequentially, in order to kill as much leukemia cells as possible. Antibiotics and transfusions of red blood cells and platelets help sustain patients whose blood counts are dangerously low because they are receiving intensive chemotherapy. In the chronic leukemias, cures are very infrequent.
Carcinoma is a cancer that develops in the inner and outer surfaces of the body, like in the skin, the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, the inside of blood vessels, and the lungs. Carcinomas are malignant tumors in which cells grow uncontrollably, eventually pushing out normal cells. Carcinomas include breast cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, and skin cancer. Doctors prescribe treatment based on the kind of carcinoma, the stage of its growth, the patient?s age and their general health. Chemotherapy, Radiotherapy and surgery are all treatments possible for Carcinoma.
Hodgkin?s Disease is a cancer of the lymphatic system (a network of small vessels that carry lymph, a fluid containing white blood cells of the immune system). This disease is most common in those 15 to 35 years of age or those who are over 50. Symptoms of the Hodgkin?s disease are swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin and later there is a possibility of the spleen enlarging. Secondary symptoms include fever, chills, weight loss, fatigue, night sweats and loss of appetite. The cause remains unknown since British physician Thomas Hodgkin discovered it in 1832. Researches think that macrophages (large immune cells that take in foreign bacteria) could portray a role in causing Hodgkin?s disease.
If the disease is diagnosed at an early stage, and has not yet spread to other parts of the body, radiation therapy is the common choice among physicians. With advanced cases, doctors will usually prescribe chemotherapy for approximately six months, with a combination of radiation therapy. For patients who have relapses, doctors may prescribe chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants. The chemotherapy is used to destroy all of the patient?s unhealthy bone marrow to prepare for the transplantation of healthy bone marrow, so the body can start production of white blood cells. About 90% of those who are diagnosed at an early stage are cured. In advanced cases of the disease, about 50 to 80% of the cases are cured.
Radiotherapy + Chemotherapy
Therapeutic radiology uses high-energy particles or waves, such as X rays or gamma rays. This focuses damaging radiation on the region of a tumor, inflicting genetic damage that can kill cancerous cells. Radiotherapy damages rapidly splitting cells. Usually damaging cancer cells but sometimes just getting the ones that are healthy yet produce quickly. There are many side effects to radiation therapy like chemotherapy:
Loss of appetite
Weakened immune system
The decrease in white cells, which are the cells that help protect the body against infection, is what causes the weakening of the immune system. Short doses of radiation therapy, can minimize these side effects. The total dosage the patient receives is based on the size, location and type of cancer infecting the patient. Patients will usually receive radiotherapy five days a week for five weeks. A weekend break allows the normal cells to recover.
Radiation can destroy microscopic cancer cells that have moved into surrounding tissues, unlike surgery. For example, a patient with cancer to the spine undergoes radiation treatment. In his radiotherapy procedure, the radioisotope cobalt 60 is used as the source of gamma radiation. The high dose is used by laser targeting a localized area. For those who are older, radiation is sometimes the better choice because some individuals may find it difficult to recover from a major surgery. Radiation might also be used to shrink the tumor in preparation for a more feasible surgery, or radiation could be used following surgery. Chemotherapy and radiation may coincide as well, as could all three. At certain times, that is the case. Like surgery and chemotherapy, radiation is used to sometimes relieve pain a discomfort when a cure is not probable.
As a treatment for disease, there are many other methods that could be used as a substitute to drug therapy. Alternative medicine, other types of therapeutic methods drawn from non-Western traditions, include such techniques as:
Immunotherapy is also used and it is when the immune system is stimulated to produce antibodies against specific invaders of the system, or the use of monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies are those that are genetically engineered and target specific cancer cells.
Nuclear Medicine is when radioactive substances, combined with imaging techniques are used to diagnose and treat injuries or diseases. Cancer can be treated using Nuclear medicine. It is noted for being pain-free as well as safer and much more cost effective that many other treatments, like surgery or chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy proves to be very effective in different types and stages of cancer. Although it can be used on its own, it proves to work better when combined with surgery and/or radiation therapy. Chemotherapy does not work any less then radiotherapy or surgery, it works differently. Its use is to directly poison the diseased organism and save an individuals life.