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Last Updated: Nov 01, 2021
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Chemotherapy - Treatment, Procedure And Side Effects

What is Chemotherapy? Types Treatment Stages Treatment Time Precaution Success Rate Complications Side Effects Diet Recovery Cost Effects Alternatives

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is used in the treatment of cancer. There are a wide variety of drugs that are used in this method of treatment. Since cancer involves cell division, it works to counter this effect by destroying the cancerous cells. In cases where surgery is used to remove the cancer is ineffective, the oncologist will recommend the treatment.

Chemotherapy is sometimes used in conjunction with radiation and surgery in the treatment of cancer. It might be used to destroy the cancerous cells that remain after radiation therapy or even in order to shrink a cancerous growth before surgery or radiation therapy. The treatment is effective in decreasing the number of cancerous cells in the body and also helps to manage the symptoms of cancer. While chemotherapy is an effective method of treatment, cancer cannot be cured completely. The chance of recurrence of cancer is always a possibility.

What are the different types of chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is the treatment for a cancer patient to stop the growth of cancer cells. During the process cancer cells are killed or stop dividing. When chemotherapy is given by mouth or injected in the veins the drug directly enter in the cancer cells through the bloodstream. There are three major types of chemotherapy:

  • Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy: It is given before surgery so that the size of the tumour can be shrunk.
  • Adjuvant Chemotherapy: It is used after the surgery so that the risk of recurrence can be reduced.
  • Palliative Chemotherapy: It is used to control cancer but does not help in curing it.
  • Combined therapies: Non-drug treatments are combined with localized chemotherapy to attain better results and limit the toxicity.

How is chemotherapy done?

Chemotherapy is an aggressive form of treatment wherein the drug attacks the cancer cells and destroys them. This form of treatment is administered in a number of ways. It could be given to the patient intravenously or as a tablet or even injected into the skin. A cycle of chemotherapy could be given on a daily basis for a week. Then the patient is given a resting period of two-three weeks before continuing with another cycle. Therefore one cycle could last for 3-4 weeks. However, the length of these cycles differs according to the type of drug and the patient.

When the drug is administered intravenously; a nurse will insert a needle into the vein in your arm which allows the chemo drug to drip through the IV. This happens at each session of the cycle of chemotherapy treatment. After the drug has been administered the nurse will then remove the needle. This process can take a few hours per session. The patient may experience exhaustion and fatigue during the session.

If it is a capsule or a tablet then the drug is given orally. You will be asked to swallow the pill and flush it down with a glass of water. The chemotherapy drug can also be administered directly to the affected organs or directly to an affected artery. In some cases, the drug can be injected into the skin, arm, leg or hip of the patient.

At what stage of cancer is chemotherapy used?

Chemotherapy depends upon the treatment and type of cancer you are having. Doctors use the process of chemotherapy because it circulates in the whole body through the bloodstream. Chemotherapy is mostly given in the last stages of cancer to relieve pain.

How long is chemotherapy given?

Chemotherapy is administered in a course or a series of sessions that vary from person to person. The course could be every day for a week or once a week over a period of 8 weeks. It is also possible for the course to last several months. The variation of the time period for a session or course depends on the recommendation from the oncologist and according to the drug being administered.

Who needs chemotherapy?

The eligibility for the treatment of cancer with chemotherapy depends on the following criteria:

  • Most patients with breast cancer are eligible for the treatment, except in certain cases according to the discretion of the oncologist.
  • Patients with 3rd or 4th stage of cancer can be treated with chemotherapy.
  • It is the best form of treatment when the cancer cells have spread throughout the body and in the bloodstream or within the lymphatic system.
  • There is no particular age limit for chemotherapy. While patients who are elderly might be prone to additional side effects, and effective in treating patients of all ages.

Who is not eligible for the treatment?

The medical professional in charge of the treatment will decide whether or not you are eligible for chemotherapy treatment. In general, chemotherapy is used to treat various types of cancer. But in certain cases, chemotherapy might not be advisable. They are:

  • Pregnant women in their first trimester are not eligible for chemotherapy. After the first trimester, they can safely proceed with this treatment.
  • Chemotherapy is usually not for people who suffer from cancer which does not spread quickly.

What should you not do during Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy makes a patient’s body prone to secondary infections due to its side effects. Hence the nutritional requirement changes in order to strengthen the immune system. Those mainly involve avoidance of things such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, smoking, and refined sugar as well as fatty and fried foods. Proper hygiene methods while cooking should be followed and stress management, as well as proper sleep-wake cycles, should be maintained. Physical activities should also be increased and isolation from the family must be avoided.

What is the success rate of Chemotherapy?

The success rate of Chemotherapy has successfully been established after a clinical study in two groups of women suffering from cancer. One group was allowed to go Chemotherapy along with hormone therapy after the surgery while the other group didn’t undergo chemo. The results were in terms of overall survival which was 98.1 % for the group that had chemo and 98% for the one who didn’t have it after 5 years of treatment, while after 9 years the survival was 93.8% and 93.95 respectively.

What happens if chemo doesn't work?

Although Chemotherapy is considered the first line of treatment, there are many cases where it proves to be ineffective. In such cases, we opt for some other therapies such as radiation therapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy. The aim of these methods is the same i.e to completely cure cancer or to minimize its growth by the action of radiation, immune system, endocrine system, and medications respectively.

What are the side effects of chemotherapy?

The side effects of chemotherapy are as follows:

  • Nausea and vomiting: Patient often experiences these symptoms after each chemotherapy session.
  • Exhaustion and fatigue: It is normal to experience fatigue, weakness, and exhaustion for a while after the treatment has been administered.
  • Hair fall: One of the most evident side effects of chemotherapy is the loss of hair. Sometimes patient bald gradually, while others might not lose much hair. In many cases, the hair grows back after the treatment is over.
  • Minor symptoms like fever, weight loss, constipation are commonly experienced after the treatment.
  • Patients may notice changes in their skin or nails and have bleeding gums or mouth sores. After the treatment patients bruise easily, experience changes in their sense of taste, nerve damage and even loss of appetite.
  • Certain major side effects include; problems with fertility, memory problems or heart disorders.

Is Chemotherapy painful?

Chemotherapy is a part of the treatment of cancer that basically involves a series of medications, administered into the body intravenously, subcutaneously, or through injection into a muscle or spinal fluid. Intravenous methods are the most common that usually do not cause any pain unless there is a problem with the IV line and the drugs get leaked in the nearby tissues.

What are the best foods to eat while on chemotherapy?

It is recommended that one should eat light food while going through chemotherapy. Small portions of food must be taken at intervals. Avoid fatty and spicy food, and skipping meals during chemotherapy. Staying hydrated throughout the day and keeping muscle tissues hydrated with fluids. No treatment should be delayed to boost up the immune system.

  • Post-treatment patients suffer from sensitivity to sunlight. They should avoid direct sun exposure and use sunscreen for protection.
  • To deal with hair loss, you can use a wig to cover your head or cut your hair short.
  • It is important to eat healthy food and eat five short meals rather than three full meals in a day.
  • According to the doctor’s recommendation, you must take the medications as prescribed.
  • You can practice meditation and relaxing techniques. But it is important to stay active and exercise as much as possible, without straining yourself.

How long does it take to recover?

The amount of time it takes to recover depends on various factors such as stage of cancer, type of cancer, type of treatment and number of sessions. But on an average, the chemotherapy treatment lasts for about 2 to 6 months. Recovery at the end of the treatment can take a few weeks to a month.

How much does chemotherapy session cost in India?

The cost of each chemotherapy session can range from Rs 15,000 to Rs 1, 00,000. Each patient might have to undergo a series of around 6 to 8 sessions or any number of sessions that the oncologist recommends.

How much is a session of Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy involves medicines, given into the body intravenously, subcutaneously, or through injection into a muscle or spinal fluid. The expenses for treatment are usually of the medicines and pathology tests. However, the overall average monthly expenditure is estimated to be 1000 USD to 12000 USD. In case the number of chemo sessions is four, the total expenditure becomes 48000 USD, which is no doubt beyond the capacity of an average earning person.

How long do the effects of chemo last?

The results of chemotherapy are not permanent since there is always a possibility of cancer to recur. Numerous studies show that patients have gone into remission after treatment with chemotherapy and surgery. The survival rate for cancer patients who have undergone chemotherapy is relatively high.

What are the alternatives to the treatment?

The alternative methods of treatment of cancer besides chemotherapy are radiation therapy, surgery, homeopathic medicines.

Key Highlights:

Safety: Medium

Effectiveness: Medium

Timeliness: Low

Relative Risk: High

Side Effects: High

Recovery Time: High

Price Range: Rs. 15,000 - Rs. 1, 00,000

Summary: Chemotherapy is a part of the treatment of cancer that basically involves a series of medications, administered into the body intravenously, subcutaneously, or through injection into a muscle or spinal fluid. The success rate of Chemotherapy has successfully been established after a clinical study. Chemotherapy is usually considered the first line of treatment but there are many cases where it proves to be ineffective. In such cases, we opt for some other therapies such as radiation therapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy.

Popular Questions & Answers

My wife is suffering from blood cancer type aml-relapse. As per today cbc hb7, tlc 0.77 and platelets 31 and on 10.02.22, hb8, tlc 0.9 and platelets 10 now from morning she has fever and now fever is 100.4, paracetamol 650, vericoat, ceftum given but not relief. Any oncologist please reply. I want to avoid hospitalization.

MBBS, MD - Paediatrics, Fellowship - Hematology & Oncology, Renzo Gallanelo Fellowship
Hematologist, Ludhiana
As TLC is very low, she should be admitted as fever in this case is a medical emergency. I understand you are in a very tough position. What have you decided for her treatment. Are you planning to go for 2nd line therapy or not.

Hello, after total thyroid removal due to thyroid cancer i'm taking synthiroid 125 mcg daily but I have allergic reactions (rush) and I want to try tirosint or maybe other levothyroxine drug. Can I get prescription after consulting with the doctor? I can provide all necessary blood tests.

MBBS, CCEBDM, Diploma in Diabetology, Diploma in Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics, Cetificate Course In Thyroid Disorders Management (CCMTD)
Endocrinologist, Dharwad
Hello, thanks for the query. All the brands contain same drug that is levothyroxine. You may try another brand and see if the reaction does not occur. Thanks.

My grandmother age is 70 years and in her ultrasound report endometrial thickness is 10 mm .doctor had advised biopsy because they have doubt of having endometrial cancer .she is suffering from very bad anal and vagina pain .no pain killer is effective for her .what should we do? Please suggest something.

MD - Obstetrtics & Gynaecology, FCPS, DGO, Diploma of the Faculty of Family Planning (DFFP)
Gynaecologist, Mumbai
Doctor has already advised and still you are wasting time. Best is hysteroscopy + curratage, but at least curratage is must.

My grandma is 86 years old. She has breast cancer, was operated for the tumours. And radiation is advised. However the doctor told her to take a break after 4 cycles as her cardiac rhythm is not stable. She has aortic stenosis. However Dr. has advised not to touch the heart at this age. What can be done?

MD - Obstetrtics & Gynaecology, FCPS, DGO, Diploma of the Faculty of Family Planning (DFFP)
Gynaecologist, Mumbai
Whatever doctor has advised. If want to take second opinion take her to another doctor physically with all medical records

I am 21 years old. Recently fibroadenoma surgery done in my left breast. But in right breast some small lumps are left which is not possible to get out through surgery as doctor said. So she prescribed a ormiloxifene drug.(sevista 60) does it helps to prevent further growth of lump. Or any other drug to be use please explain in detail.

M.B.B.S, Post Graduate Diploma In Maternal & Child Health
Gynaecologist, Bokaro
This medicine helps in fibroadenoma. It will prevent further growth of lumps. Is there any pain also? If you would like to discuss, do contact for detailed discussion and advice.
1 person found this helpful

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