What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that uses medicine to kill the cancer cells. The cancer cells are being damaged and killed so that they won’t be able to reproduce and spread. It is usually used if there’s a risk that cancer will spread or that it has already spread.
Depending on the patient’s condition, chemotherapy aims to:
- try to completely cure cancer
- decrease the risk of cancer to recur
- help other treatments be effective
- relieve symptoms and slow down the process
There are various types of medications used in chemotherapy, and all work in the same way. Treatment may be monotherapy (one medicine) or combination therapy (combination of medicines). However, treatment still depends on the type of cancer a person has.
Chemotherapy may be given orally or can be injected directly into the vein. The anti-cancer drugs enter the bloodstream and reach all parts of the body. It is usually given in cycles, allowing a recovery period after each episode of treatment.
Chemotherapy Delivery Methods
Chemotherapy can be given in the following different ways:
- via the mouth in liquid or pill form
- by injection
- as a topical cream
- through an IV line
- by lumbar puncture
Regional therapy is when the chemotherapy medicine targets particular areas of the body. A systemic chemotherapy, on the other hand, is when the drugs move via the bloodstream all over the body.
Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is often successful at treating cancer as well as relieving the symptoms that it produced. However, chemotherapy causes side effects as the medicines used cannot distinguish the healthy cells and cancer cells. As a result, chemotherapy causes problems such as hair loss, nausea and vomiting, feeling weak and tired all the time, loss of appetite, infections, and mouth sores.
The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the drug (or drugs) used, the dosage of the drug, and how the person reacts to treatment. There are some chemotherapy medications that can damage the kidneys, so a regular blood test is needed to monitor the health of the kidneys.
When chemotherapy is given in combination with radiotherapy, the side effects are usually worse. Diarrhea may also become a problem.
On rare occasions, particular drugs may cause permanent damage to the bone marrow, which could lead to different cancers of the blood such as acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes. These conditions usually occur within the interval of 10 years or so posttreatment. In almost all of the patients, the advantage of treating cancer with chemotherapy will probably exceed the risk of these complications.
Small ulcers may appear and you might have a sore mouth due to some chemotherapy drugs. Use a mouthwash regularly. If the patient has a suppressed appetite and does not feel like eating food, the diet can be supported by nutritious soups and other fluids.
The side effects can be quite painful and difficult to bear but they will ease up after the treatment is done. The doctor will inform you about all of the side effects and problems you might have to face. You must inform your medical team if and when you experience any kind of side effects at all. There are numerous methods that your doctor can employ to help you get over the side effects of the treatment.
Cervical Cancer and Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is used to try to treat cervical cancer. It may be used in combination with radiotherapy or as an only treatment for the advanced stage of cervical cancer, relieving its symptoms and slowing its progression.
Cisplatin, topotecan, paclitaxel (Taxol®), 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) and ifosfamide (Ifex®) are the chemotherapy medications used in treating cervical cancer. These agents can be used alone or in combination with radiation therapy.
For younger women with cervical cancer who have not removed their uterus, a common side effect of chemotherapy is menstrual period changes. It is important to know that even if the menstruation stopped during treatment, women can still get pregnant. Moreover, getting pregnant during chemotherapy can cause birth defects in the long run. Not having menstrual periods and infertility may become permanent. As a result, osteoporosis and bone loss could develop.
Living and adapting to the effects of chemotherapy would not be easy. It is important to know what medicines you are taking, how they work, and what the side effects are. You can make a diary of the side effects you’re experiencing so that it will be easier for you to remember and discuss with your primary health care provider. Remember, what’s important is that these effects will go away when the treatment is complete.
The bone marrow cells that produce blood can get quite low due to the damage caused by chemotherapy drugs. This can further cause:
- Much higher risk of infection because of fewer white blood cells.
- Disproportional bruising or bleeding even if the injuries or wounds are minor due to the less number of blood platelets.
- Episodes of breathlessness because of an overall low blood count.
If chemotherapy is accompanied with radiation, the severity of the side effects is much more. Nausea and fatigue are quite often worse and diarrhea is also a major problem that recurs all the time. The medical team will watch out for any side effects and will prescribe the necessary drugs to help you feel better and not worse.
Sometimes, patients find that their menstrual periods have stopped and they are not able to conceive anymore. This happens often and could very well be a permanent situation. Some chemotherapy medicines are more likely to do it than others. If the patient is older when she receives the chemotherapy, it is quite likely that she will suffer infertility or go through a premature menopause because of it. When such event does occur, the risk of osteoporosis and loss in bone density is much higher. The doctor and the medical team can easily prescribe drugs that can treat or help reduce such problems regarding bone density loss.
Chemotherapy is one of the treatment procedures that one has to go through in order to try and stop the growth of the cancer cells. One must consult a doctor and find out if there are any alternative or additional methods for the treatment of cervical cancer.