Chemotherapy

Specialty of Medical oncology

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 disease from all angles.

Why would you do it?   

Chemotherapy is used for different reasons, including to:

  • Treat cancer
  • Shrink cancer
  • Prevent cancer from spreading
  • Lessen the symptoms being caused by the cancer.

What does it 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 and often in combination with other treatments, for example:

  • 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.

How to prepare for it

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.

Post-treatment care

Chemotherapy can be very effective but it leaves the body more vulnerable and can have 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. Avoid substances which may have a negative effect on your health such as alcohol and smoking.
  • Exercise: during recovery it is important to be active.
  • See a specialist if having memory issues, which is quite common after undergoing treatment.
  • Take care of infections as chemotherapy patients are more vulnerable. A good tip is to wash hands frequently.  

Chemotherapy alternatives

In most cases, chemotherapy is used alongside other treatments. It is done to try and get the best result for the patient. Some of the most common include:

  • Directed therapy
  • Hormonotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Surgery: once the tumour has been shrunk it is easier to operate on. Surgery is quite often the first choice of treatment which is complemented with chemotherapy.    
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