The previous blog post discussed surgery as a cancer treatment option. However, it is not the only option available to cancer patients. Surgery is often used in combination with chemotherapy and radiation therapy to fight cancer.  Chemotherapy can be used to shrink tumors before surgery or radiation. Also, chemotherapy can be used after surgery or radiation to kill any cancer cells that are left.

Chemotherapy is the use of strong drugs to treat cancer. Chemotherapy was first used as a cancer treatment in the 1950s. There are over 100 chemotherapy drugs used today. A doctor will choose which drugs to use based on the type of cancer and how far it has progressed. In addition to its usage in curing cancer, chemotherapy is also used to slow cancer’s growth, to keep cancer from spreading, to kill cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of the body, and to relieve pain and blockages caused by cancer.

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Chemotherapy drugs target rapidly dividing cells in the body. This includes cancer cells as well as normal tissue cells. However, normal tissue cells can generally repair themselves and recover from the damage done to them by chemo drugs.

Chemotherapy is administered in a number of ways.  Generally, chemo is administered directly into the bloodstream using a tiny plastic tube that is put in a vein called a catheter. This method of chemo administration is called intravenous chemo. Chemo can be a pill or liquid that is taken like any other drug under the doctor’s directions.  Chemo can also administered with a needle like a flu shot. Lastly, chemo can be administered directly onto the spine, chest, skin, or abdomen.

Chemotherapy is generally done in cycles, with breaks in between. These breaks allow the body to repair itself and rebuild healthy new cells in between chemotherapy cycles. Chemotherapy can be administered once a day, once a week, or even once a month. How often one receives chemotherapy and how long they receive chemotherapy treatments for depends on the type of cancer, the treatment goals, and how one’s body responds to the drugs used. Other than a little pain from when a needle is used, chemotherapy should not cause any pain.

As chemotherapy drugs are extremely strong, there are a number of side effects associated with chemo. However, some people may have no side effects at all. If the side effects become really bad, a doctor may suggest blood tests to find out if a lower dosage is needed or if longer breaks are needed between doses. The side effects of chemotherapy generally will go away with time after the treatments end but how long it takes varies from person to person.

Common chemotherapy side effects included nausea and vomiting, hair loss, bone marrow changes, mouth and skin changes, changes in your sex life, permanent fertility problems, memory changes, and emotional changes. Bone marrow changes can affect your red blood cell count, resulting in shortness of breath, can affect your white blood cell count, resulting in an increased chance of infection, and can affect your platelet count, making you susceptible to bleeding.

More information on chemotherapy can be found at:

http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003321-pdf.pdf

The following video explains what you can expect when receiving chemotherapy.

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