Chemotherapy is utilized to eradicate cancer cells, by slowing or stopping the cells from growing. In some cases, the cancer cells can be eradicated, so they can no longer be detected in the body. What many people do not know is chemotherapy is also utilized to ease cancer symptoms, by targeting and shrinking tumors that are linked to the pain. The oncologist will determine your treatment plan, based on the form of cancer, location, size of tumor and the stage of the tumor.
Chemotherapy Drugs Used In Conjunction With Other Treatments
Chemotherapy drugs are often used in conjunction with other medicines, such as transduction inhibitors and anti-angiogenesis inhibitors. Transduction inhibitors work by “turning off” specific proteins found in cancer cells. These proteins are responsible for causing the cancer cells to grow and multiply. An example of a transduction inhibitor is Gleevec.
Anti-angiogenesis inhibitors are not classified as chemotherapy drugs, but it is sometimes utilized in conjunction with chemotherapy. Anti-angiogenesis inhibitors work by preventing blood vessels from supplying the tumor with a supply of blood. This will starve the tumor, preventing it from growing. Avastin is one example of an anti-angiogenesis inhibitor.
Chemotherapy may also be given after the removal of a malignant tumor or radiation therapy, which is called neoadjuvant therapy. The goal is to eradicate any cancer remaining in the body.
Evaluating Your Options
Being diagnosed with cancer is devastating, but it is important to note that modern cancer drugs, therapy and treatment are capable of increasing your survival rate. Today, oncologists utilize new approaches, by combining treatments to make them less disruptive and more effective. The oncologist will take the time to explain the available treatments and recommend the most effective approach, based on your particular form of cancer. Oncologists can also offer patients new drugs that are not yet available at other hospitals, so be sure to inquire about these, during your initial visit to the oncology center.
It also highly recommended for cancer patients to join support groups. These programs are designed to offer support and help the patient cope with the side effects of chemotherapy.
How Chemotherapy Drugs Are Administered
Chemotherapy drugs are administered intravenously, by injection, topically or orally. Some patients are able to take their medicine at home, while others will need to go to the outpatient clinic, but this will depend on the type of chemotherapy the oncologist recommends. The dosage and schedule will depend on the patient’s health. Chemotherapy drugs may be administered daily, weekly or monthly. A “cycle” of chemotherapy is based on a four-week period. For example, if you receive 30 days of chemotherapy, this will be one cycle. In specific situations, the patient may require multiple cycles, but this will depend on the patient’s condition.
Chemotherapy side effects vary from one patient to another, depending on the type of medicine recommended. Chemotherapy drugs have definitely changed over the years. Today, these drugs are less toxic to decrease the severity of the side effects and to ensure the drugs specifically target cancer cells, without altering healthy cells.
The most common chemotherapy side effect is fatigue. Other side effects include:
- Decreased appetite
- Canker sores (sores in the mouth)
- Nausea with/without vomiting
- Alteration in bowel habits
- Hair loss
- Low blood cell counts
The side effects will usually go away after the chemotherapy is completed. If you exhibit hair loss, it will take anywhere between two to four weeks to see new hair growth. The oncologist team will work with you to help control the side effects and ensure you comfortable as possible throughout the entire process.