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Chemotherapy Drugs A - Z

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Chemotherapy is one of the conventional therapeutic steps often taken in the fight against cancer. Due to its side effects, however, most cancer patients fear it. The fact, the more you know about cancer chemotherapy, the better chance you have for the treatment to be a success. Here is some information to help you understand what chemotherapy is, how it works and especially what you can expect when undergoing this powerful cancer treatment.

 

Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment of cancer using cytotoxic medications (anticancer drugs) to kill tumor cells in the entire organism. These strong drugs are designed to kill cancer cells that grow abnormally (the main characteristic of cancer cells) in the body.  

 

Cancer is the uncontrolled multiplication of cells, due to genetic mutations known as DNA damage. These cancer cells are maligant cells that divide rapidly and cause healthy cells to do the same; that is, to reproduce without control. The majority of chemotherapy drugs work by stopping cell division, targeting cells that divide too quickly, as they pass through different stages to develop. The treatment aims to halt or slow the progression of the proliferation of cancer cells, destroying them and preventing their uncontrolled reproduction within the organism. The therapy is recommended by the doctor, either before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor and thus facilitate subsequent surgery, after surgery (to reduce the risk that the cancer comes back locally or remotely) or whether to treat metastases: the fact that the cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body.

 

Consultation with an Oncologist 

 

Chemotherapy can be performed alone or in association with other therapies: radiation therapy, surgical therapy or others. If the therapy is considered as an integral part of the treatment, a consultation with a medical oncologist should be done before the treatment. The objective of this consultation is to confirm the usefulness of the chemotherapy, to determine the type of chemotherapy regimen to use and to answer questions that you may have, but also to do a complete physical examination in order to look for possible pathological interference or to prescribe additional tests if necessary. The consultation is also important to organize the chemotherapy itself: number of chemo sections, outpatient, hospital stay, etc. During your chemotherapy, the oncologist will medically follow you closely to determine the progress of your condition and give you regular appointment. 

 

Before The Treatment 

 

Before undergoing chemotherapy, it is mandatory to comply with certain constraints, so that the process takes place for the better, and especially to reduce the chance of infection. A blood test will be performed systematically prior to the chemotherapy to ensure the proper functioning of vital organs in the metabolism and elimination of drugs work fine: liver and kidney for instance. The rate of cells circulating in the blood will also be verified. Sometimes an ultrasound or cardiac scintigraphy is complementary recommended before administering medications.  

 

For women of childbearing age, undergoing a pregnancy test before treatment is required and the maintenance of contraception during treatment is highly recommended. If necessary, a special diet can be prescribed along with the therapy.   

 

Finally, a chemotherapy protocol will be established by the health care provider to serve as a reference throughout chemotherapy.  

 

Chemotherapy Drugs 

 

Depending on the cancer treated or the health status of the patient, one or more anticancer drugs are administered: some inhibit cell division and others block the growth cycle of cancer cells. Sometimes, medications can be administered orally or by intramuscular route or subcutaneous injection, although most chemotherapy is injected intravenously. Regardless, the chemotherapy will be divided by an alternation of periods of treatment and rest. Between courses, a range of 1 to 4 weeks is necessary to allow the body to recover from the side effects. Chemo drugs can be taken in one or more days.  

 

Chemotherapy Side Effects 

 

Unfortunately, in spite of all the advances in the medical field, it is yet impossible to precisely target malignant cells from normal cells that reproduce rapidly. This is why other rapidly dividing cells, such as blood cells and the cells responsible for hair growth or regeneration of the intestinal epithelium, are also affected during chemotherapy. 

 

Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy are more prone to infections (due to destruction of white blood cells), anemia (due to destruction of red blood cells) and bleeding (due to platelet destruction). In certain cases when these health issues occur, the health care providers will resort to blood transfusions or placing the patient in a sterile room. Regarding the hair loss, it is not systematic and depends on the treatment followed (see chemotherapy hair loss for more info). For nausea, advanced treatment is not necessarily required except in serious cases. But generally, anti-nausea medications (antiemetics) will be given as a preventive measure to prevent their occurrence.  

 

Chemotherapy can affect your health, disrupt your daily activities and limit your personal life. This is why your character and emotions can change quickly causing you to experience anxiety, depression symptoms or anger. Although these reactions are normal, they can be disturbing not only to you but also your love ones. So do not hesitate to talk to your doctor and your family about your feeling.