Chemotherapy is a treatment that works by using powerful chemicals in drugs to kill fast-growing cells in the body of a patient. It is the most common procedure used to treat patients suffering from cancer, especially since the cells in the body tend to grow and multiply rapidly during this condition. Today, a wide array of chemotherapy drugs is available for treatment and they can either be used alone or in combination with other drugs for effective treatment against cancer.
While many people understand what is chemotherapy, there is little knowledge surrounding the side effects that the treatment carries. Although some of them can be treated easily owing to their mildness, others can be very hard to get rid of, due to serious complications.
Why Is Chemotherapy Done?
Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer-causing cells in affected people. There are certain conditions in which chemotherapy may be used in people affected by cancer, including the following:
It serves as a primary or even the only cancer treatment.
Chemotherapy may be used after the administration of other treatments or surgery. This helps to kill any remaining cancer cells in the body. It is known as an adjuvant therapy.
It may also be used to shrink another tumour in the body such that other treatments like surgery or radiation may be performed. This is commonly known as neoadjuvant therapy.
Chemotherapy is also effective in relieving the signs and symptoms of cancer which can be done by killing off some of the cancer cells. It is commonly known as Palliative chemotherapy.
When it comes to knowing what is chemotherapy treatment, most people think that it is only used for the treatment of cancer. However, that is not the case. In fact, chemotherapy is and can be used for an array of other conditions as well. These include bone marrow diseases and immune system disorders. Although it is possible to treat diseases that affect the bone marrow and blood cells through a bone marrow transplant, chemotherapy is often used as an initial procedure to prepare the body for subsequent treatment. Similarly, lower doses of chemotherapy drugs can help to control an overactive immune system during instances of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
How Does Chemotherapy Work For Cancer Treatment?
Chemotherapy involves a systematic medicinal procedure which reaches all the parts of the body through the bloodstream. Chemotherapy is not of one single type. In general terms, Chemotherapy employs very powerful chemicals that can specifically attack cells during a certain part of their life cycle. All the cells in the body go through a cell cycle, and that is how newer cells in the body are made. Usually, cancer cells tend to go through this process a lot faster than normal, which is why chemotherapy can impact these quick-growing cells.
However, since chemotherapy makes these powerful chemicals travel all over the body, it is also likely to damage the healthy cells in the body going through their normal cell cycle. This is why there are quite a few side effects associated with the administration of chemotherapy.
What Is Chemotherapy Treatment?
There is a lot to know about what is chemotherapy treatment and its goals. Ideally, the objective of treatment through chemotherapy rests on the type of cancer and the extent to which it has spread in the body. Chemotherapy may be administered on its own or together in combination with another treatment based on the outcome expected. Let us take a look at several scenarios which define how chemotherapy is used.
On most occasions, the objective of chemotherapy treatment is based on getting rid of all the cancer cells in the body and keeping them from returning. This type of treatment is labelled as curative chemotherapy.
Before Other Treatments
Also known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy, this type of treatment is administered before surgery or radiation therapy, to shrink the existing tumours.
After Other Treatments
Chemotherapy may be administered after surgery or radiation therapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells in the body. A treatment such as this one is known as adjuvant chemotherapy.
When a certain cancer is not curable, chemotherapy can be administered to shrink the tumour partially or prevent the growth of the tumour and its spread for different durations of time. When this is done, chemotherapy can help to extend the survival of a patient or else, relieve symptoms related to the cancer and thereby, improve the quality of life of the patient. In this case, the treatment is labelled as Palliative chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy is indeed successful in treating a wide array of cancers. It may prove to be an effective treatment in the event of recurrent cancer or metastatic cancer. Several factors determine how the chemotherapy plan shall progress for a patient.
Factors Affecting the Chemotherapy Plan
Today, there are many drugs available in the market to treat cancer. To be able to avail of medical treatment, a patient will have to reach out to an oncologist, who is a doctor specialising in treating cancer with medicines. It is this type of doctor who will prescribe chemotherapy, along with a combination of other drugs.
The dosage of drugs and the treatment schedule rest upon a variety of factors, some of which are as follows:
· Type of cancer
· Stage of cancer
· Age of patient
· General health condition of the patient
· Body weight of the patient
· Expected side effects of the drugs
· Additional medications being consumed by the patient
· Any history of previous cancer treatments
What Happens During Chemotherapy?
Usually, when a patient is diagnosed with cancer, they are given preliminary care by a team of specialists at a hospital. Undergoing chemotherapy is a decision that must be taken after consulting a healthcare expert. Patients can assess their options based on the aim of the treatment, possible side effects, effectiveness of chemotherapy and suitability of another alternate treatment. If the patient agrees with the recommendation of the doctors, they will begin with the treatment.
However, before chemotherapy can be administered, doctors will conduct several general health tests to check the health status of the patient. This will help establish whether the treatment is right for the patient. Some of these tests may include blood tests to check how well are the liver and kidneys functioning and the status of the blood cells. Doctors may even perform X-rays and scans to check the size of the cancer. Several other tests may also be performed during the chemotherapy to assess the health of the patient.
How is Chemotherapy Delivered?
There are several different ways in which chemotherapy may be delivered to a patient.
Some drugs require direct injection into the vein of the patient and this is called intravenous or IV chemotherapy. The procedure may take between a few minutes to a few hours. Although some IV drugs also tend to work better if they are taken over a few days or weeks.
The procedure is administered through the mouth via a pill, liquid or capsule. This procedure may be considered quite convenient since a patient can pick up their medications from a pharmacy and take them home. This is why they are also becoming rather popular and common among cancer patients. The frequency of medicines through the oral route may vary between one or more days. It is important to follow the drug’s schedule and avoid missing any dose for effective treatment.
In this procedure, the patient receives chemotherapy as a shot, either in the muscle or as an injection under the skin. The shot may be given in the arm, abdomen or the leg.
Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood to the body. At times, chemotherapy medicines may be injected into an artery that directly goes up to the site of the cancer. This type of chemotherapy is known as intra-arterial or IA.
Peritoneum or Abdomen
In the case of certain cancers, the medicines may be directly placed in the abdomen. Usually, such treatments work well for cancers that involve the peritoneum, which covers the regions around the abdomen, intestines, stomach and liver. Ovarian cancer is one such type of cancer that spreads through the peritoneum.
Some chemotherapy medications come in the form of a cream that can be applied to the skin. These creams are easily available in the market and can be applied at home.
What Are the Types Of Chemotherapy Treatment?
The use of chemotherapy for the treatment of cancer usually involves more than 100 different types of drugs. It is common to question what is the strongest chemotherapy drug. There are several different types of chemotherapy drugs that doctors use for the treatment of cancer. Let us take a look at some of them.
1. Alkylating agents: Still common today, these were some of the first cancer treatments available. They work by disrupting DNA within the cells, preventing them from dividing. They are most successful against slow-growing cancers.
2. Antimetabolites: Usually, these drugs work by pretending to be nutrients, required for cell growth. After consuming them, the cell starves to death, which is why these work only during specific stages of the cell’s growth cycle.
3. Plant Alkaloids: They are plant-based substances that prevent cells from dividing and growing into more cells. They are most effective during certain phases of a cell’s growth cycle.
4. Anti-Tumour Antibiotics: These drugs are different from traditional antibiotics since they work by unravelling DNA strands that prevent a cell from dividing. Other than these drugs, doctors may also administer Mitotic inhibitors and topoisomerase inhibitors to treat cancer.
Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy might be an effective cancer treatment but it does come with several side effects. However, many of the side effects of the procedure can be treated or prevented and some may come to pass when the treatment stops. It is not possible to predict exactly which side effect may trouble a patient but it is unlikely that anyone may have to go through all possible side effects of chemotherapy. Some of the common side effects of chemotherapy are listed below:
A feeling of fatigue is perhaps the most common side effect of chemotherapy. Patients undergoing chemotherapy may feel tired most of the time, or they get tired easily while performing routine activities. Taking plenty of rest and avoiding strenuous activities can help wade off some of this tiredness. Patients are also advised to perform light exercises and take aid from family or friends when needed.
During chemotherapy, one is likely to feel sick and may fall sick. Doctors often prescribe anti-sickness medicines to the patient to bring down the probability of this happening. These medicines may be taken in the form of tablets, capsules, injections, drips or skin patches. However, even these medicines may cause several side effects such as constipation, indigestion, headaches, and sleeping problems.
Loss of Hair
Among the most common side effects of chemotherapy is hair loss, even though it may not happen to everyone. It is likely to result due to a side effect of one of the medicines for the procedure. If medicines are likely to cause hair loss, it will usually start within the first few weeks of the treatment. However, a lot of loss of hair is likely to begin within the first 1-2 months of the treatment. Usually, hair loss is likely to occur from the head but it is possible to lose hair from other parts of the body as well such as the arms, legs and face. Hair loss is usually temporary and the hair begins growing back soon after the treatment is finished. But it is also possible that the hair that grows back may be different in colour or carry a different texture.
Undergoing chemotherapy may reduce the body’s ability to fight off infections. The patient becomes more susceptible to getting several infections that could make them seriously ill. This is why it is very important to take active steps that could reduce the incidence of catching an infection. Habits like frequent handwashing with soap and water, avoiding close contact with an infected person, taking regular flu jabs, and getting vaccinated are some ways to avoid falling seriously ill. Doctors may recommend taking a course of antibiotics for this purpose.
Chemotherapy can significantly lower the red blood cells in the body, which can lead to anaemia. Symptoms such as lack of energy, shortness of breath, pale complexion and heart palpitations can indicate anaemia. A patient will need treatment to increase the count of red blood cells.
Chemotherapy can also reduce the number of platelets in the blood. Due to this, it is easy to get bruises on the skin, face, severe nosebleeds and bleeding gums. Persistence of the issue may require treatment to increase the platelets in the blood.
Soreness in Mouth
Chemotherapy is likely to cause soreness in the lining of the mouth and symptoms of that can manifest soon after the treatment begins. Patients may complain about a feeling of soreness inside the mouth, mouth ulcers, discomfort in eating, drinking and talking, dryness in the mouth, reduced sense of taste and bad breath.
Loss of Appetite
Loss of appetite is another common outcome of chemotherapy but it necessarily entails that a patient must try to eat and drink allowed foods and fluids frequently. It helps if they snack on healthy foods regularly or eat lighter meals during the day of the treatment. Instead of consuming larger meals, it can be helpful to consume smaller portions throughout the day.
Changes in Skin and Nails
Some chemotherapy medicines can change the way that the skin looks. They can cause dryness, discolouration, sensitivity, soreness, redness or itchiness on the skin. Topical treatments can be the best way to get some relief from these symptoms. The treatment can cause nails to become brittle or flaky and may even lead to the formation of white lines across them. But they usually go back to being normal after the procedure is complete.
Complications in Memory and Concentration
Some patients may face issues with their short-term memory, concentration and span of attention during the treatment. Usually, the symptoms tend to improve once the treatment is complete.
Apart from these side effects, people are also likely to experience issues with sleeping patterns, fertility, libido, diarrhoea and constipation, along with a host of emotional issues.
Certain chemotherapy drugs can cause painful side effects, which may be felt as a sensation of burning, numbness, shooting pain and tingling.
Top Hospitals for Chemotherapy
The Indian healthcare system has established itself as one of the finer destinations for the treatment of cancer. Many patients enquire about what is the cost of chemotherapy in India as the country provides one of the most cost-effective and effective treatments globally, with the aid of modern technologies.
Some of the best cancer care facilities available in India are cyberknife, proton beam therapy and more. Backed by experienced and well-qualified professionals and state-of-the-art medical facilities, patients can expect to be treated with utmost care.
Here is a list of the top ten hospitals where patients can take chemotherapy.
AIIMS: With a dedicated cancer centre the hospital offers the best facilities for diagnosis and treatment in New Delhi.
Tata Memorial Hospital: Located in Mumbai, the hospital is known for its research and advanced treatment protocols for cancer.
Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology: This hospital is located in Bangalore and is known for its comprehensive cancer care and skilled staff.
Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals: The chain of hospitals is known for the introduction of atomized chemotherapy in India and the performance of complex cancer treatments like Gamma knife radiosurgery, proton beam therapy and more.
BGS Gleneagles Global Hospital: Located in Karnataka, the hospital is equipped with an advanced radiation oncology centre and advanced machines like linear accelerators and Brachytherapy.
American Oncology Institute: The hospital is located in Hyderabad and is dedicated to providing good cancer care to its patients through medical oncology, surgical oncology and diagnostic imaging.
Fortis Hospital: With a dedicated team of medical oncologists and surgeons, Fortis is one of the best cancer care hospitals in Gurugram.
Saifee Hospital: It is one of the most prestigious hospitals in India for cancer care, located in Mumbai.
BLK Max Super Speciality Hospital: Located in Delhi, the hospital offers advanced cancer care with a team of renowned experts.
Medanta: The Medicity: In Gurgaon, patients can avail of comprehensive cancer care services at this hospital.
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