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    Oncology:
 
 

Chemotherapy:

 

 

Chemotherapy is the general term for any treatment involving the use of chemical agents to stop cancer cells from growing.

Treating Cancer With Chemotherapy

Many people fear chemotherapy because they have heard that it can have uncomfortable side effects. But side-effect management has come a long way over the last few decades. Today, many side effects once associated with chemotherapy can be prevented or controlled. With some types of chemotherapy, you may experience only minimal side effects. And chemotherapy may be your best option for a successful outcome. You can help achieve a successful outcome by understanding how side effects can impact your treatment. Learn how best to manage chemotherapy side effects.

Chemotherapy is the general term for any treatment involving the use of chemical agents to stop cancer cells from growing. Chemotherapy can eliminate cancer cells at sites great distances from the original cancer. As a result, chemotherapy is considered a systemic treatment.

More than half of all people diagnosed with cancer receive chemotherapy. For millions of people, chemotherapy helps treat their cancer effectively, enabling them to enjoy full, productive lives.

A chemotherapy regimen (a treatment plan and schedule) usually includes drugs to fight cancer plus drugs to help support completion of the cancer treatment at the full dose on schedule. Most doctors agree that staying on your chemotherapy schedule gives you the best opportunity for a successful result.2-8

To get the most from chemotherapy, it's important to stick to a schedule of treatment. Find out more about chemotherapy cycles and schedules.

How Chemotherapy Works

Chemotherapy is designed to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered through a vein, injected into a body cavity, or delivered orally in the form of a pill, depending on which drug is used.

Chemotherapy works by destroying cancer cells; unfortunately, it cannot tell the difference between a cancer cell and some healthy cells. So chemotherapy eliminates not only the fast-growing cancer cells but also other fast-growing cells in your body, including, hair and blood cells.

Some cancer cells grow slowly while others grow rapidly. As a result, different types of chemotherapy drugs target the growth patterns of specific types of cancer cells. Each drug has a different way of working and is effective at a specific time in the life cycle of the cell it targets. Your doctor will determine the chemotherapy drug that is right for you. To understand more about the different ways chemotherapy is given, read about how people receive chemotherapy.

Discussing the Effectiveness of Cancer Treatment

Understand the goals and risks of each treatment option so you can work with your doctor to decide which treatment is best for you. Balance potential benefits against the risks of treatment.

Some risks of cancer treatments may include time away from family and friends, uncomfortable side effects, or long-term complications. Cancer treatment may be inconvenient, prolonged, or unavailable close to home. These are important considerations when evaluating treatment options, but they are not typically mentioned in medical journals reporting the results and benefits of new treatments.

Once you and your doctor have decided on a treatment plan, talk with your doctor about all you can do to make sure you get the full dose of your cancer treatment on schedule. You can make note of subjects to discuss and questions to ask by using Tools for Organizing Your Cancer Information.

Importance of Full Dose on Schedule

Studies show that for certain types of cancer, chemotherapy produces the best long-term results when patients receive the full dose on time, every time.

Your doctor will develop a treatment plan scientifically designed for you, based on your type of cancer, its stage of advancement, and your overall health. It will consist of specific chemotherapy agents, at specific doses and intervals. These are called your scheduled cycles. Generally, treatments are given daily, weekly, or monthly. Your doctor will help you determine the most effective treatment schedule for you.

The goal is to make your chemotherapy as effective, timely, and problem-free as possible. But while your chemotherapy treatment works to fight your cancer, it also can cause side effects such as a lowered white blood cell count. A low white blood cell count means your immune system isn't as strong as it could be, which can increase your risk of infection. It also can require your doctor to change your dose or schedule of your chemotherapy.

A chemotherapy-induced low white blood cell count, caused by healthy cells lost during chemotherapy, is an expected side effect of your treatment. Therefore, you can plan ahead so it is less likely to disrupt your treatment schedule. A low white blood cell count typically occurs after the administration of certain types of chemotherapy and may continue for several days. To help reduce side effects like low white blood cell count that may interfere with your treatment schedule, learn more about managing chemotherapy side effects.

Under certain circumstances, your doctor may decide your body is too weak to receive chemotherapy. A low white blood cell count can temporarily disrupt your cancer treatment or result in having your chemotherapy dose decreased. These changes to your treatment plan could make your cancer treatment less effective than it should be.

To get the most from chemotherapy, it's important to stick to a schedule of treatment. Find out about chemotherapy cycles and schedules.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

An undesirable consequence of chemotherapy affecting your body—not related to your cancer—is referred to as a complication of treatment, or a side effect. Some common side effects of chemotherapy are:

  • Low white blood cell count
  • Low red blood cell count
  • Low platelet count
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue

Some side effects may be temporary and uncomfortable. Some can cause dose reductions and treatment delays or even be life-threatening. For example, one of the most serious potential side effects of chemotherapy is a low count of infection-fighting white blood cells—a condition called neutropenia (new-troh-PEE-nee-ah). Neutropenia can interrupt your chemotherapy schedule and put you at risk for infections that may require hospitalization and may even be life-threatening. Fortunately, significant progress has been made in the development of "proactive" therapies that help you manage the side effects of chemotherapy—ideally, before they interrupt your treatment schedule.

Take an active role in managing side effects. Learn all you can, use your tools for organizing your cancer information to note any side effects you experience, and be sure to discuss them with your doctor. You can make note of subjects to discuss and questions to ask by using your Tools for Organizing Your Cancer Information.

 

>back to "Oncology Treatment"


 

 

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