Many people who are diagnosed with cancer are advised to undergo chemotherapy in order to treat their disease. This type of treatment can be very effective in eliminating or stopping the spread of cancer, but it does have some risks to consider as well. This article includes all the basics about chemotherapy, including how it works, what to expect when undergoing treatment and the potential side effects.
Chemotherapy, often referred to simply as “chemo,” is the use of drugs to treat cancer. There are more than 100 chemotherapy drugs that can be used in different combinations or individually to treat specific types of cancer. The drugs work by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells or by actually destroying those cells.
Chemotherapy is used for several purposes:
It’s important to note that chemotherapy is different from radiation therapy and surgery in that chemo affects the entire body, while radiation and surgery affect only the area of the body where the cancer is located. In many cases, chemo is combined with surgery or radiation therapy in order to treat cancer.
The process of your chemotherapy treatment will depend upon which doctor you’re seeing, the type of cancer you have, the severity of you cancer and your insurance policies, among other factors. You may receive your treatment at home, in a clinic, in a hospital or in a doctor’s office. While some patients receive treatments daily, others only need them weekly or monthly. However, most doctors arrange for their patients’ chemo treatment to be given in cycles to allow for periods where the body can rebuild healthy cells.
There are several ways that chemotherapy drugs can be administered. Ask about these different options if you have concerns about how you will receive your chemo treatments:
Many of the side effects caused by chemotherapy are a result of the drugs affecting the entire body (including healthy cells) in addition to the areas affected by cancer. Some vulnerable areas that are often affected by chemo include the mouth, the intestines, cells responsible for hair growth and cells in your bone marrow.
The following are some potential side effects of chemo:
Your doctor can help you find ways to manage or alleviate these side effects should you experience them. For instance, certain dietary changes can help with diarrhea, and many people choose to purchase a wig or scarf to cover their baldness due to hair loss.
In addition to the side effects that may arise as you undergo chemotherapy treatments, there are also a few possible long-term health risks that may appear after your chemo has been completed. These risks include:
Chemotherapy does have its risks, but it has also saved thousands of lives. Consult with your doctor about all the pros and cons of chemo treatment, and be sure to ask about how your drugs will be administered and how you’ll deal with the side effects.