What is Chemotherapy all About?
Chemotherapy is a form of treatment which involves the use of drugs to treat an illness. This definition also covers the use of antibiotics in treating diseases. Chemotherapy is mainly used in treating cancer. But there are other diseases also which can be treated using chemo drugs.
Medical Conditions that Can be Treated Using Chemotherapy
This is the condition mostly treated by chemotherapy. Cancer is a medical condition in which abnormal cells develop rapidly within the body. Chemotherapy drugs work by attacking the actively dividing cells in the body while destroying and preventing further growth of cancer cells.
There are various chemo treatments that can be administered to treat the cancer. The combinations used for the treatment will depend on the type of cancer and the extent of its spread in the body.
How Does Chemotherapy Treat Cancer?
Chemotherapy drugs can be used alone or combined with other treatment methods such as radiotherapy and surgery to cure the cancer. Cancer cells are actively dividing cells. Chemotherapy destroys these cells by interfering with the cell division process.
There are chemo drugs that work by altering the DNA of the cancer cells interfering with their replication. Other drugs inhibit special enzymes that aid in cell division from reaching the cancer cells to prevent them from multiplying.
Sometimes chemotherapy may not be enough to cure the cancer. Therefore, it will have to be backed by treatments such as radiotherapy or surgery to remove the tumor.
- Auto Immune Illnesses
This is a medical condition in which the white blood cells become overactive and attack the joints. Although white blood cells offer protection from bacteria and diseases that may attack the body, they may become too active at times and start attacking healthy body tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused when they attack the joints.
The symptoms of this condition include swelling or pain which can be intense or mild and reduced mobility. Chemotherapy is one of the methods used in treating this condition after several unsuccessful attempts with other treatment methods. The chemo drugs work by regulating the symptoms caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
This is an autoimmune problem which causes inflammation to body systems. It can affect the following:
- The cardiovascular system
- The central nervous system
- The renal system
- The skin and the blood cells
Lupus is very difficult to detect due to its varying symptoms. Chemotherapy comes in hand when anti-inflammatory medication fails to work. Chemo drugs regulate the symptoms of this condition.
This is another auto immune disorder in which the white blood cells interfere with the nervous system. The white blood cells cause destruction to this system thus making it difficult to transmit nerve impulses. Some of the symptoms experienced include pain, numbness, feeling weak, etc.
Since chemotherapy interferes with the manufacture of white blood cells and reduces their number, the treatment used here would decrease their number to lessen the attack on the nerve tissues.
What are the Side Effects of Chemotherapy Treatments?
Despite the many advantages and effectiveness of chemotherapy, it also has its downside in the form of side effects. Chemo treatments come with many side effects and they differ across various patients. Some of the side effects include:
Nausea- This is where you feel sick within your stomach. Nausea is usually accompanied by vomiting.
Diarrhea- Some patients may experience diarrhea while undergoing chemotherapy.
Feeling tired and fatigued- This is because chemo drugs can attack the bone marrow and reduce the number of red blood cells being formed thus reducing the transportation of oxygen in the body causing the feeling of tiredness.
Attacks from opportunistic infections- Chemotherapy can also interfere and lower the formation of white blood cells in the body. This leaves your body defenseless against illnesses providing opportunistic diseases a chance to attack you.
Pain- Most of the people who undergo chemotherapy experience pain sometimes during the treatment. For some, their nerves get damaged causing excruciating pain.
How is Chemotherapy Administered?
Chemotherapy can be administered in quite a number of ways. Examples are given below:
- Intravenous injections
This involves the injection of chemo drugs directly into the vein. A needle connected to a tube is inserted into the vein and the drug is administered into your body.
- Pill form
Chemotherapy drugs can also come in pill form. They can also be in the form of capsules. All you have to do is just swallow them to get it absorbed into the system and start working.
- Cream form
There are certain creams and gels that are made with the drugs that cure cancer. These creams are mainly used to treat some types of skin cancer. They are applied on the skin to get absorbed into the body and destroy the cancer cells.
- Administering of chemo drugs directly on the tumor
This is where the chemo drugs are placed directed on the tumor. The drugs can be placed in special thin wafers and kept close to the the tumor so they will release the drugs slowly over time. Another method may involve the injection of drugs into a blood vessel that directly feeds into the tumor.
The Bottom Line
Chemotherapy is used to treat quite a number of conditions but in rest of the cases (aside from cancer), it may be undertaken as a secondary option. For medical conditions such as auto immune complications the doctor may prescribe other medical treatment methods and if they do not work, chemotherapy may be considered.
Talk to your doctor to determine if chemotherapy is the best treatment method available for you condition. If it is, then go for it.