1 July 2009
Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells and can usually be given by mouth or injection. Chemotherapy travels through the blood stream to the entirebody and is considered systemic treatment.
Chemotherapy may be used to:
- stop cancer from spreading to other parts of the body
- slow cancer growth
- kill cancer cells
- relieve symptoms of cancer
Chemotherapy can be given on their own but often several drugs are given together. This is known as combination chemotherapy. Chemotherapy may also be used with other types of treatment such as surgery, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapies, or a combination of these.
How Does Chemotherapy Work
Chemotherapy interferes with rapidly dividing cells keeping them from further multiplying. This is why cancer cells are much more sensitive to chemotherapy. However, healthy cells can also be affected, especially those that naturally should divide quickly. The damage to healthy cells can cause side effects.
Therefore when chemotherapy is given, it involves trying to find a balance between destroying the cancer cells and minimizing damage to the healthy cells.
Side Effects Of Chemotherapy
Side effects occur when chemotherapy disrupts the healthy cells that maintain the body's appearance and function. Experiencing side effects does not mean the treatment is working better.
Similarly, the absence of side effects does not mean that the treatment is not working. The fast-growing healthy cells most likely affected by chemotherapy are blood cells forming in the bone marrow, cells in the digestive tract, reproductive system and hair follicles.
Common side effects of chemotherapy include fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, mouth sores, hair loss and anemia. However, each person's overall experience with chemotherapy is unique.