Chemotherapy is basically a cancer treatment which uses medication to destroy cancer cells. This treatment stops or slows down the growth of cancer cells that grow and divide at a faster pace. Chemotherapy may be used for certain types of cancers and other treatments such as surgeries, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapies, or a combination of these.

Based on the type of cancer and its stage chemotherapy can:

Cure cancer – as it destroys the cancer cells to the point that your doctor can no longer detect them in your body and they also never grow back.

Control cancer – as it keeps away cancer from spreading in the body, slows down its growth, or even destroys the cancer cells spread to any other body parts.  

Ease out cancer symptoms – It shrinks the tumors that cause pain or pressure.
Unfortunately, chemotherapy drugs can impact on the healthy cells of one’s body and can cause unpleasant side effects too. Healthy cells in certain body highly sensitive to the chemotherapy drugs; they include the bone marrow (which makes blood cells), the hair follicles, the lining of the mouth, the digestive system etc. It can cause harm to healthy cells that divide quickly, such as those that line your mouth and intestines or cause your hair to grow.

Chemotherapy is a treatment that is generally given as a series of sessions wherein each session follows a rest period. This kind of chemotherapy session and the rest period is known as a cycle of treatment. Thus a series of cycles make up to a course of treatment. Each session of chemotherapy destroys more of the cancer cells, and the rest period allows the normal cells and tissues to recover. Chemotherapy may be given in different ways, depending on the type of cancer you have and the chemotherapy drugs used. Most often chemotherapy is given by injection into a vein (intravenously). This is known as intravenous chemotherapy. The process is:

  • Some drugs are given as tablets or capsules (oral chemotherapy).
  • Some are injected into a muscle (intramuscular injection).
  • Others may be injected just under the skin (subcutaneous injection).

These drugs are absorbed into the blood stream and carried around the body so that they can reach all the cancer cells.
Intravenous chemotherapy: Take a look at the four ways of giving chemotherapy drugs directly into the vein. These are through:

  • Cannula – a small tube inserted into a vein in your arm or the back of your hand.
  • Central line – a thin, flexible tube is inserted through the skin of the chest into a vein near the heart.
  • PICC line (a peripherally inserted central catheter) – a thin flexible tube passed into a vein in the bend or upper part of the arm and threaded through until the end of the tube lies in a vein near the heart.
  • Implantable port (also called a portacath) – a thin, soft plastic tube that is put into a vein. It has an opening (port) just under the skin on your chest or arm.

Oral chemotherapy
this can be given in the form of tablets or capsules to take at home as all or part of one’s treatment. You will be told when to take them and will be given other instructions such as whether or not to take them with food. Damage to healthy cells may be causes as side effects. Often, side effects get better or go away after chemotherapy is over. However, damage to the healthy cells is generally temporary and most side effects will disappear once the treatment is over.

Check out the possible side effects of some chemotherapy drugs

  • Side effects related to bone marrow and blood
  • Anemia
  • Increased bleeding and bruising
  • Impact on your hair
  • Digestive system
  • Loss of sense of taste
  • Side effects on your mouth
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Skin and nail changes
  • Neurological side effects
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