Chemotherapy – Uses, Side Effects and Procedures

Chemotherapy is a powerful form of chemical drug therapy aimed at destroying rapidly growing cells in the body. Chemotherapy is usually used in the treatment of cancer. An oncologist is a doctor that specializes in the treatment of cancer.

Chemotherapy is commonly used in conjunction with other therapies, such as radiation, surgery, or hormone therapy. However, this depends on the following;

 

  • Overall health
  • The type and stage of cancer present
  • Treatment of choice
  • Where the cancer cells are present
  • Previous cancer treatments

Granted that chemotherapy has been proven to kill cancer cells efficiently, it can also lead to serious side effects that can severely affect the quality of life. It is essential to weigh the side effects against the possible risk of not getting treated when deciding if chemotherapy is the best option for you.

Why is Chemotherapy used?

Chemotherapy or chemo is generally used to;

  • Minimize the total number of cancer cells in the body
  • Decrease current symptoms
  • Shrink away tumor sizes
  • Decrease the possibility of cancer spreading

Your oncologist may suggest that you have chemo to ensure that all kinds of residual cells are killed if you are undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Chemotherapy is also used to get a person ready for other treatments.

It could be used to prepare a patient for radiation therapy or to help shrink a tumor that would be removed surgically.

In cases where it’s late-stage cancer, chemo can be used to help relieve pain. Apart from been used for the treatment of cancer, it can also be used in the treatment of bone marrow diseases as well as immune system disorders.

Chemotherapy in lower doses can be used to help conditions in which the immune system in the body attacks healthy cells, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

Side Effects

Chemotherapy is specially designed to attack and kill cells that divide too quickly. While cancer cells react this way, other cells present in the body divide quickly as well. Areas, where cells can be adversely affected, include;

  • Hair
  • Blood
  • The lining of the intestinal tract
  • Skin

Due to this, side effects associated with chemotherapy include;

  • Diarrhea
  • Mouth sores
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive bleeding and easy bruising
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Hair loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight lose
  • Anemia
  • Neuropathy
  • Infection
  • Pain from nerve damage
  • Constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Nail changes
  • Fertility issues
  • Sexual changes
  • Skin changes
  • Issues with concentration
  • Memory loss
  • Lymphedema

Your doctor or healthcare provider can help you with lifestyle tips and medications to help you manage side effects associated with the side effects of chemotherapy.

Several side effects of chemo decrease when treatment is over. There are, however, risks linked with long-lasting effects that are likely to develop years after treatment. It depends on the type of chemotherapy that was used.

Side effects could cause damage to the following:

  • Kidneys
  • Heart
  • Nerves
  • Lungs
  • Reproductive organs

There is also a possibility of developing another cancer after chemotherapy. Before treatment begins, it is essential that you discuss with your doctor about the risks involve associated with the procedure.

Preparing for Chemotherapy

It is important to plan ahead since chemotherapy is no child’s play. Your doctor or healthcare worker should be able to inform you of the potential risks associated with the treatment.

Before your therapy begins, a series of tests would be carried out to help determine if you’re fit enough for the treatment.

Tests would include heart examinations, and blood tests to check for the health of your liver. Generally, the test is done to help your doctor determine what type of chemo they can use in treating you.

Your doctor may also suggest that you visit your dentist before commencing treatment. This is because chemotherapy affects the body’s ability to heal, so any infection in your teeth or gums could potentially spread throughout the body.

Your doctor may install a port if you’re getting chemotherapy through an intravenous (IV) line. This is a device that can be implanted in your body, in the chest near the shoulder. This gives easier access to the veins and is considerably less painful.

Preparation Tips

Chemotherapy treatment tips to consider;

  • Make preparations for work. Most people can handle work during the therapy, but it might be better to take on a lighter workload until you are sure of the side effects you may be experiencing.
  • Arrange your home. Stock up your groceries, do laundry and do other tasks that may be too stressful for you to do after your first appointment.
  • Make preparations for any help you might need. Getting a family member or a friend to help with household chores or looking after your children or pets can be extremely beneficial.
  • Side effects are almost inevitable, so it’s best to prepare for them. Consult with your doctor on possible side effects that you may experience and ways to manage them. If side effects include hair loss, then you may want to get wigs or headcovers.
  • Join support groups or therapy. Talking about what you’re going through with someone outside your family or circle of friends can help you remain optimistic.

How is Chemotherapy Performed?

You and your healthcare provider or doctor can work together to properly consider all factors and determine the best process of treatment.

Chemotherapy is typically administered directly into the veins by IV or injection or in pill form. Chemotherapy can also be delivered in many other forms.

Other forms of chemotherapy delivery could include;

  • Directly into the area where the tumor is. If there was a surgery done to have the tumor removed, your doctor might implant slow-dissolving plates that are designed to release the medications.
  • Chemotherapy creams can be applied to treat some skin cancers.
  • Some chemotherapy can be taken through pills.
  • Localized treatment involves targeting specific parts of the body, such as the chest, abdomen, the bladder, and the central nervous system.
  • Liquid chemotherapy medication can be delivered in single doses, or your doctor can have a port installed where treatments can be given directly through it. Pain is only felt in the first infusion of the port.

Treatment options can be changed if your body isn’t handling the treatment well. It could also be increased or decreased, depressing on how the cancer cells react to the procedure.

Post-Chemotherapy

Your cancer treatment team and doctor will help to monitor the efficiency of your treatments constantly. These will include blood tests, imaging techniques, and other tests. They may also administer more medications if needed.

Recovery might be quicker if you shared more with your doctor about how you are affected by the chemotherapy. Your doctor should be informed of any side effects you might be experiencing. This would make adjusting treatment methods easier if necessary.

Have you ever had to do any treatment involving chemotherapy? What did the procedure entail? Share your experience with us in the comments.

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Oluwafemi Michael
Oluwafemi Michael is an online Mental Health Therapist, Advocate for Mental Health Awareness, a programmer, and also a content creator from Edo state, Akoko-Edo LG.

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