What is Chemotherapy?

Dr Foram Bhuta

Dr Foram Bhuta

BDS (Bachelor of Dental Surgery), 10 years of experience

September 9, 2021 Cancer Hub 330 Views

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What is the meaning of Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment. ‘Chemo’ means the use of drugs for stopping the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy destroys the rapidly growing tumor cells in the body. It may not be beneficial for every cancer patient and can cause some side effects. The body keeps producing new cells to replace the old ones. A person can develop cancer when these new cells grow and multiply abnormally, resulting in cancerous tumors. Doctors use certain medications to stop the growth of these cells. These medications may be given either intravenously (drugs given through a vein) or in the form of pills.

Let us tell you in detail about chemotherapy treatment in today’s article.

  • What are the types of Chemotherapy?
  • What is the purpose of Chemotherapy?
  • What are the conditions Chemotherapy is used for other than cancer?
  • What are the tests done before Chemotherapy?
  • What is the procedure of Chemotherapy?
  • How to take care after Chemotherapy?
  • What are the risks and side effects of Chemotherapy?
  • Frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) about Chemotherapy
  • What is the cost of Chemotherapy in India?

What are the types of Chemotherapy?

There are four main types of Chemotherapy-

  • Antitumor Antibiotics (Anthracyclines): Anthracyclines are antitumor antibiotics that interfere with the enzymes necessary for DNA replication. These drugs are used for treating many types of cancers. Some examples of anthracyclines are doxorubicin, mitomycin-C, and bleomycin.
  • Antimetabolites: Antimetabolites are chemotherapy drugs that interfere with RNA and DNA growth. They are cell-cycle specific and hence they kill cancer cells in a specific phase of cell division. These drugs are used in the treatment of leukemia(blood cancer), cancer of the breast, ovary, and intestinal tract. Some of the antimetabolites drugs are capecitabine, gemcitabine, and pemetrexed.
  • Alkylating Agents: Alkylating agents are the most commonly used and oldest class of chemotherapy drugs. They work by directly damaging DNA and preventing cancer cells from reproducing. They are used to treat a large variety of cancers but have the highest effect on those cancers that are slow-growing. These drugs are used for treating leukemia (blood cancer), lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system that includes the lymph nodes, bone marrow, spleen, and thymus gland) Hodgkin’s disease (cancer of a part of the immune system), multiple myeloma (cancer of the plasma cells), sarcoma (cancer affecting several parts of the body beginning in the bone and soft tissues), cancer of brain, lung, breast, and ovary. Some examples of alkylating agents are oxaliplatin, cisplatin, and carboplatin. ( Know more about- What is Breast Cancer? Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
  • Plant alkaloids: They are obtained from certain types of plants found in nature. These drugs inhibit the rate of cell division or inhibit enzymes from making proteins necessary for cell reproduction. Some examples of plant alkaloids are vincristine, vinblastine, and vinorelbine.

What is the purpose of Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy treatment mainly aims to stop the growth and division of cancer cells.

The various reasons for performing chemotherapy include-

  • Chemotherapy is used as a primary mode of treatment for cancer.
  • Chemotherapy is used for decreasing the total number of cancer cells in the body.
  • It reduces the chances of cancer spreading to other parts of the body.
  • It decreases the size of the tumor before surgery or radiation therapy. This is known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy. ( Know more about- What is Spine Tumor Treatment? )
  • Chemotherapy is done to provide relief from the signs and symptoms of cancer. This is done by killing some cancer cells and is known as a palliative form of chemotherapy.
  • The destruction of the small cancer cells that may be present after the tumor is removed by surgery, and is known as adjuvant therapy. Adjuvant therapy is administered to prevent a possible cancer recurrence. ( Know more about- What is Lymphoma? )

What are the conditions Chemotherapy is used for other than cancer?

  • Chemotherapy may be used to prepare people with bone marrow diseases (problems associated with the stem cells and their development) for a bone marrow transplant. ( Know more about- What is Bone Marrow Transplant?)
  • Doses much lower than used to treat cancer may be used to treat disorders in which the body’s immune system (proteins and cells that defend the body against various infections) attacks healthy cells, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis (a condition in which there is an inflammation of one or more joints, leading to pain and stiffness in the joints). 

What are the tests done before Chemotherapy?

The doctor will perform a physical examination after asking about the patient’s detailed medical history and presenting symptoms before starting with chemotherapy.

The doctor will also prescribe some tests for an accurate diagnosis of cancer.  Some tests that the doctor may prescribe include:-

  • Blood tests
  • Tissue biopsy (a small part of the tumor is removed for laboratory examination)
  • FNAC / Fine needle aspiration cytology (a thin needle is inserted into the growth lump and examined under a microscope) 

What is the procedure of Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is often administered to the patient several times for weeks and/or months.

During the entire course of treatment, a series of treatment periods may take place, which are called ‘cycles’.

Chemotherapy may be given every day or for specific days during these cycles. Sometimes, the chemotherapy days or cycles are followed by periods of rest to allow the body to recover and produce new healthy cells.

Chemotherapy may be done in the following ways-

  • Oral Chemotherapy: Oral chemotherapy medications that are swallowed are encased in a protective coating that is broken down by the digestive juices in the stomach. The stomach acids dissolve the outer coating thereby releasing the medication, which is then absorbed through the stomach lining. The patient can take the prescribed chemotherapy drugs at home, but he needs to visit the hospital for regular checkups.
  • Intravenous Chemotherapy: In this procedure, drugs are given directly into the patient’s vein. The medication enters the body quickly and is then carried to the different parts of the body through blood. This is the commonest method of chemotherapy administration since most chemo drugs are easily absorbed through the bloodstream. Intravenous administration offers the most rapid absorption of all currently available methods, and the most versatile.
  • Subcutaneous Chemotherapy: Subcutaneous injections are given by using a short needle in this method. 
  • Intramuscular Chemotherapy: In this type of chemotherapy, intramuscular injections are given into the muscle layer through the intact skin. Most chemotherapy cannot be given intramuscularly because of the harshness of the chemical.
  • Topical Chemotherapy: Some chemotherapy creams or gels are applied directly to the skin in certain cases of skin cancer. The cream is then absorbed directly into the cancerous lesion. The use of topical preparations is very rare in cancer treatments.

How to take care after Chemotherapy?

After chemotherapy, you need to take care of the following things-

  • Include protein-rich foods in the diet to maintain your weight.
  • Increase your intake of multivitamins as per the doctor’s prescription.
  • Limit your consumption of salty foods and red meat
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight or UV rays
  • Use sunscreen of a good SPF level
  • Gradually increase your physical activity
  • Avoid smoking ( Know more about- Home remedies to Quit Smoking )
  • Limit alcohol consumption

What are the risks and side effects of Chemotherapy?

Some of the following complications may occur after chemotherapy treatment-

Chemotherapy drugs can also cause some side effects that don’t become evident until after the treatment is complete. Some of these late side effects include:

  • Damage to the lung tissue
  • Heart problems 
  • Infertility 
  • Kidney problems 
  • Nerve damage  (known as peripheral neuropathy)
  • Risk of recurrence of cancer

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Chemotherapy

1. Is chemotherapy painful?

Chemotherapy is not painful for most people. However, the side effects of chemotherapy can lead to emotional and physical discomfort.

2. How long does chemotherapy last?

The chemotherapy treatment can range from one dose given for a single day to a couple of weeks, depending on the stage and the type of cancer.

3. Can chemotherapy be done during pregnancy?

Chemotherapy is generally safe for the mother and the child during the second and third trimesters (last 6 months of pregnancy). However, hormone therapy and radiation therapy should be postponed till after birth.

What is the cost of Chemotherapy in India?

The total cost of chemotherapy treatment in India can range from around INR 75,000 to INR 1,00,000. There are many hospitals and specialist doctors in India for chemotherapy. But the cost of chemotherapy treatment may vary across different hospitals.

If you are coming from abroad, apart from the cost of chemotherapy, there will be some other expenses, such as hotel accommodation and local travel. Also, after the treatment, the patient must stay in the hospital for one day and in the hotel for 15 days for recovery. So, the total cost of Chemotherapy in India will be around INR 1,30,000 to INR 1,50,000. 

We hope that we could answer all your questions regarding Chemotherapy treatment through this article.

If you want more information and treatment of Chemotherapy, you can contact an Oncologist/ Cancer Specialist.

We only aim to provide you with information through this article and do not recommend any medicine or treatment to anyone. Only a qualified doctor can give you the best advice and correct treatment plan. 

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