Chemotherapy treatment uses powerful drugs to kill fast-growing cells in your body. It has become one of the most effective ways with which to treat cancer.

Types of Chemotherapy

There are many different types of chemotherapy treatments available. Recent medical advances provide advanced and precise cancer treatment. Chemotherapy drugs can be used alone or in combination with other treatments like radiotherapy and immunotherapy to treat a wide variety of cancers.

Chemotherapy drugs can be administered in a few different ways, which include:

  • Chemotherapy infusions: Chemotherapy is most often administered in the form of an infusion i.e., into a vein (also known as ‘intravenously’). The drugs may be administered into the body by inserting a tube with a needle into a vein in your arm or via an implanted device in a vein in your chest.
  • Chemotherapy pills: Some chemotherapy drugs can be taken in pill or capsule form.
  • Chemotherapy shots: Chemotherapy drugs can be injected in the arm or other part of the body with a needle, just as you would receive an immunisation or other injection.
  • Chemotherapy creams: Creams or gels containing the necessary chemotherapy drugs, may also be applied in some cases to the skin to treat some types of skin cancer.

Targetted Treatment

Chemotherapy drugs can be given directly to one area of the body or directly into the tumour. For example, chemotherapy drugs can be injected into a patient’s abdomen, chest cavity (intrapleural chemotherapy) or even central nervous system (intrathecal chemotherapy).

Thin disk-shaped ‘wafers’ containing the necessary chemotherapy drugs can be implanted in close proximity to a tumour during surgery. The wafers then degrade and break down over time, allowing them to release the chemotherapy drugs required. It can also be applied after surgery, where the cancer was removed to prevent regrowth.

Chemotherapy drugs may also be injected into a vein or artery that directly feeds a tumour or be given through the urethra and delivered into the patient’s bladder and then into their bloodstream (intravesical chemotherapy).

When Is Chemotherapy Used For Cancer Treatment?

Chemotherapy may help relieve signs and symptoms of cancer by killing some of the cancer cells. Doctors call this palliative chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy may be used as the main or even only method of treatment for cancer. It can also be used to shrink a tumour so that other treatments, such as radiation and surgery, are possible. Doctors call this neoadjuvant therapy.

When chemotherapy is used after other treatments, such as surgery, to kill any cancer cells that might remain in the body, it is called adjuvant therapy.

Chemotherapy Side Effects

Because the drugs used during chemotherapy are designed to kill cells, the treatment can have significant side effects. Different chemotherapy drugs have different potential and expected side effects and not every chemotherapy drug causes every side effect.

Common side effects of chemotherapy drugs include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Hair loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Mouth sores
  • Pain
  • Constipation
  • Easy bruising
  • Bleeding

Many of these side effects can be prevented or treated. Most side effects subside after treatment ends.

Longer Lasting Side Effects Of Chemotherapy Treatment

Chemotherapy drugs may cause side effects that are not evident until many months or in some cases even years after treatment. Later-emerging side effects of chemotherapy treatment in patients will vary depending on the precise chemotherapy drug delivered, but may in some cases include:

  • Damage to lung tissue
  • Heart problems
  • Infertility
  • Kidney problems
  • Nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy)
  • Risk of a second cancer

Frequently Asked Questions

Chemotherapy drugs attack fast-growing cells. Because hair follicles are among the fastest-growing cells in the body, the therapy might cause significant hair loss within the first few weeks of treatment.

Yes! Your hair should start growing back within the first month after treatment, though the texture and colour might be different than before.

The treatment itself isn’t painful - the drugs are administered just like any other drug. However, the side effects from the treatment can be uncomfortable, or even painful.

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