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Last Updated: Oct 22, 2019
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Chemotherapy - Treatment, Procedure And Side Effects

What is Chemotherapy? What are the different types of chemotherapy? How is chemotherapy done? At what stage of cancer is chemotherapy used? How long is chemotherapy given? What are the side effects of chemotherapy? What are the remedies for chemotherapy side effects? What are the best foods to eat while on chemotherapy? How long does it take to recover? How much does chemotherapy session cost in India? How long do the effects of chemo last? What are the alternatives to the treatment?

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 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.

What are the remedies for chemotherapy side effects?

Chemotherapy is done to fight cancer but it has its own side effects. Every person responds in a different manner to chemotherapy. Trying these tips help manage some of the chemotherapy side effects:

  • Vomit and Nausea: Vomiting and nausea can be prevented by eating small meals five to six times a day. Keep good drinking habits and keep time in drinking and eating. Avoiding eating strong smelling food to prevent nausea. Consult your doctor for proper anti-nausea and vomiting medications.
  • Fatigue: You may feel fatigued during the chemotherapy process. Therefore take short naps during the day, and doing exercise may boost your energy.
  • Hair Loss: During chemotherapy, there is a loss of hair. But not all therapies tend to do that. After chemotherapy uses a soft bristle brush and avoids using chemical products. Wearing a hat or scarf in cold weather is helpful.
  • Sun Sensitivity: You may feel fatigued during the chemotherapy process. Therefore take short naps during the day, and doing exercise may boost your energy.
  • Direct sunlight must be avoided as you may be more sun sensitive in the following months. Wear long-sleeved clothes wear wide-brimmed hats or caps.

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 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

Popular Questions & Answers

For the past 4 months i've suffered with back, stomach and neck discomfort and sometimes get a sore throat. I feel like I have a knot in my stomach that feeling comes and goes I think it feels a bit worse when i've eaten but is worse when sat down. I don't struggle with sleeping I sleep really well. I sometimes feel sick but haven't been sick since this all started. I get pains in what feels like my bowl area. I've noticed when I urinate its a lot of urine but it doesn't hurt or burn and I don't go frequently I sometimes get indigestion. All blood test i've had done have come back normal and I am currently waiting for an ultrasound scan. I've noticed a small squishy bulge at the bottom of my back on the left hand side its painless doctors have checked it and seem to think it's of no concern. I suffer with diarrhea regularly and have done for many years sometimes I need to use the toilet right after eating and I find undigested food in my stool. Irritable bowel syndrome dose run in my family as my sister and father both have it. I suffer with health anxiety very badly and i've convinced myself that I have kidney, stomach or lymphoma cancer. I've just started taking 50 mg of sertraline i'm 8 days into taking them. I'm 28 years old and have a 6 month old son and i'm scared i'm going to die and leave him to grow up without me.

Homeopathy Doctor, Noida
Follow this 1. Don't take tea empty stomach. Eat something like a banana (if you are not diabetic) or any seasonal fruit or soaked almonds and a glass of water first thing in the morning (within 10 mins of waking up). No only biscuits or rusk will...

My relative is suffering with synovial sarcoma .having tumor between lung n heart of about 5 cm. Its localized tumor. What is best treatment for the same?

MBBS Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, MD - Internal Medicine, DM - Oncology
Oncologist, Greater Noida
Synovial sarcomas are ideally managed by staging them with help of pet ct or mri to see if complete resection is possible. Based on the age, associated comorbidities, risks involved with surgery and other factors, decision on surgical intervention...

I'm 56 yrs. On 20sep I have diagnosed advanced stomach cancer. Dr. bharat patodia prescribed me 6cycle chemo (dacotin). I have taken 5 chemo. Now I can feel that the tumor become small & down. Can I hope a long life?

MD-Radiation Oncology, MBBS
Oncologist, Greater Noida
Hello. Its a good sign that your tumor has responded to chemotherapy and has decreased in size. Once you complete your planned chemotherapy, your oncologist will advise a repeat scan to exactly assess how much the tumor has shrunk and where all it...

Sir my sister is a blood cancer patient age 31, treatmenting with imatinib tablet. Since 10 days. But she is suffering pain one by one in her body parts. Like right leg next left leg next hand. What the cause of this.

MD - Paediatrics
Pediatrician, Nagpur
Its unfortunate that your sister is suffering with blood cancer. As per history she might having cml, and receiving imatinib for treatment. Imatinib is known to cause musculoskeletal pain. Some time simple analgesic is helpful in getting relief of...

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