What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses chemical substances that are administered intravenously or orally to get rid of cancerous cells. It is very common to combine the treatment with other kinds of chemotherapy to fight the cancerous disease from all angles.
Why is chemotherapy used?
Chemotherapy is used for different reasons. The main reasons why it is used are to:
- treat cancer
- shrink cancer
- prevent cancer from spreading
- lessen the symptoms being caused by the cancer
What does chemotherapy involve?
Chemotherapy is used to treat different types of cancer. There are different kinds of chemotherapy, each used depending on what needs to be treated. It is often used in combination with other treatments, such as:
- Curative chemotherapy: this aims to achieve complete remission.
- Palliative chemotherapy: is used when the tumour is at an advanced stage. It is used to manage symptoms to prolong patient survival as well as improve daily quality of life.
- Adjuvant chemotherapy: is used after a main treatment such as surgery, to reduce the risk of metastases.
- Polychemotherapy: uses a variety of pharmaceuticals to be able to reduce the amount of individual drugs being administered and therefore improving the overall potency of the substances.
- Monochemotherapy: uses just one anti-tumoural drug to be able to manage the disease.
- Concomitant radiochemotherapy: the aim is to enhance the local radiation effect.
- Neoadjuvant chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is given prior to the definitive treatment, which for breast cancer, is surgery. There are several advantages to giving the chemotherapy before the surgery:
1. This allows information about the chemo-sensitivity of the cancer
2. Allows strategies to intensify treatment, if the cancer has not completely responded by the time of the surgery.
3. Allows planning for complex reconstructive surgery.
4. Allows time to exclude an underlying genetic cause for the cancer, which may change the surgical plan.
How do you prepare for chemotherapy?
The most important thing is for the specialist to let the patient know what the treatment will involve, how long it is expected to last (approximately), and when it will begin. This way, the patient will be able to prepare for it and adapt their routines as necessary. It is also very important for the patient to be well nourished and avoid certain medications during treatment, as these may have a negative effect.
What does the post-treatment care involve?
Chemotherapy can be very effective, but it leaves the body more vulnerable, and thus, can cause the patient to suffer some side effects such as dizziness, nausea, and fatigue. Patients are recommended to follow the following guidelines:
- see a doctor regularly to monitor progress
- eat healthily: have a balanced diet with fruit and vegetables to increase protein intake
- exercise: during recovery it is important to be active
- see a specialist if having memory issues, which is quite common after undergoing chemotherapy treatment
- take care of and try to avoid infections by frequently washing hands, as chemotherapy patients are more vulnerable
What are the alternatives to chemotherapy?
In most cases, chemotherapy is used alongside other treatments. It is carried out to try to get the best result for the patient. Some of the most common alternatives include:
Which specialist performs chemotherapy?
Oncologists are the specialists that typically perform chemotherapy.
What do chemotherapy patients need to avoid?
It is especially important that patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment avoid undercooked or raw food. It is also heavily advised that chemotherapy patients avoid alcohol consumption, as well as overexerting themselves mentally and physically.
How is chemotherapy administered?
Chemotherapy can be administered to patients in three main ways. These are:
- In pill/tablet form
- Via injection
- Getting liquid medicine through a tube into a vein
How often will I need chemotherapy?
Generally, chemotherapy is structured in cycles with various rest periods for the patient in between. Typically, chemotherapy will be administered either daily, weekly, every other week, every third week, or monthly, depending on the severity and stage of one's cancer.