What is Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is defined as anti-cancer drug treatment which is used to destroy cancer cells or stop them from spreading. This treatment often causes many debilitating and unpleasant side effects, and each person who undergoes treatment reacts differently. Often some people experience many side effects while others may only experience a few. Side effects are usually only short term and tend to disappear when treatment is stopped.
The main areas of the body that are affected during treatment include the digestive system, the lining of your mouth, hair and bone marrow. Healthy cells in these body parts are affected because they divide and grow quickly and can repair the damage caused by chemotherapy.
Possible side effects include:
- Reduces the number of blood cells in the bone marrow
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hair loss
- Diarrhea and constipation
- Loss of appetite
- Bleeding and bruising
- Sore mouth leading to ulcers
- Skin and nail changes
Chemotherapy can be used to treat on its own to treat certain types of cancer but may also be given in combination with other treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy, biological therapies, or hormonal therapies. The main aim of chemotherapy treatment is to stop the cancer cells dividing and reproducing.
It may also be given after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells or to shrink and control cancer to minimize symptoms. This type of treatment generally depends on the type of cancer that you my have, where the cancer began in the body, the appearance of the cancer cells under the microscope and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Types of chemotherapy drugs
- Intravenous chemotherapy (drugs are injected into a vein)
- Oral chemotherapy (drugs are given orally in the form of tablets or capsules)
- Intramuscular injection (drugs are injected into a muscle)
- Subcutaneous injection (drugs are injected under the skin)
- Intrathecal chemotherapy (drugs injected into fluid around the spine)
- Intracavity chemotherapy (drugs are injected into certain body cavities such as bladder or pelvic cavity)
- Chemotherapy creams (applied to certain areas of the skin)
Treatment is given in a series of sessions which is followed by a rest period – this is known as a cycle of treatment.