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Chemotherapy: Side Effects & Information

  • Synopsis: Published: 2009-03-23 (Revised/Updated 2015-03-09) - Defines the use of Chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer and lists some side effects of receiving Chemotherapy - Disabled World (Disabled World).
Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy (often abbreviated to chemo and sometimes CTX or CTx) is a category of cancer treatment that uses chemical substances, especially one or more anti-cancer drugs (chemotherapeutic agents) that are given as part of a standardized chemotherapy regimen. The term chemotherapy is used to describe cancer-killing drugs.

Chemotherapy may be used to:

  • Cure the cancer.
  • Shrink the cancer.
  • Prevent the cancer from spreading.
  • Relieve symptoms the cancer may be causing.

Main Document

Quote: "While chemotherapy treatments are fighting cancer, they may also cause side-effects that include a lowered white blood cell count."

Chemotherapy may eliminate cancerous cells at sites which are at great distances from the original site of cancer development.

The term, 'Chemotherapy,' is a general one used in association with any treatment involving the use of chemical agents to stop cancer cell growth. Because of this, chemotherapy is considered to be a form of systemic treatment. Greater than half of all persons who have been diagnosed with cancer receive chemotherapy. Chemotherapy assists in treating millions of people successfully, helping them to enjoy full and productive lives.

A number of people fear chemotherapy treatment because they have heard that it may present side-effects which are uncomfortable. Management of the side-effects related to chemotherapy has come a long way over the last few decades. A number of the side-effects related to chemotherapy treatment may be either controlled, or prevented entirely. With some forms of chemotherapy, persons may only experience a minimum of side-effects. Chemotherapy can also be the person's best option for an outcome that is successful. It is important to understand how any side-effects may impact an individual's treatment, as well as how to best manage these side-effects.

A chemotherapy treatment plan and schedule, often referred to as a, 'regimen,' commonly includes drugs that fight cancer as well as drugs which assist in supporting the completion of the treatment of cancer at the full dose on schedule. A majority of doctors are in agreement that staying on a chemotherapy schedule provides the best opportunity for successful results. In order to achieve the best results from chemotherapy treatment, it is important to stick to a regimen of treatment.

Administration of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is designed to kill cancerous cells, and may be administered through a person's vein, injected into a body cavity, or administered orally through a pill; it depends on which drug is prescribed. Chemotherapy does kill cancer cell, yet is unable to distinguish between cancer cells and some healthy cells. Because of this, chemotherapy kills not only fast-growing cancerous cells; it also eliminates other forms of fast-growing cells in the person's body as well, such as hair and blood cells.

There are some particular cancerous cells which grow slowly, while others grow more rapidly. Different forms of chemotherapy drugs target the growth patterns of specific forms of these cancer cells, with each drug working effectively at a specific time in the life-cycle of the cell it targets. A physician determines the chemotherapy drug that is appropriate for the particular patient and the form of cancer they are fighting.

Cancer Treatment Effectiveness

Understanding the risks and goals of each particular treatment option available is important so that the person may work in conjunction with their doctor in order to decide the particular treatment that is appropriate for them. It is important to balance the risks of treatment against the potential benefits. Risks related to cancer treatment and chemotherapy may include uncomfortable side-effects, time spent away from friends or family, or long-term complications. Treatments may be prolonged, inconvenient, or unavailable close to the person's home. These considerations are important to consider when evaluating treatment options, yet are often something that are not mentioned in medical journals that report benefits and results of new treatments.

Once a person and their physician have decided upon a plan of treatment, it is important for the person to speak with their physician about doing everything they can in order to receive the full dose of treatment according to schedule. It is important to make note of subjects for discussion, as well as any questions; this is a time for the person to be very involved in their own care.

The Importance of Following the Schedule

Chemotherapy treatment, according to studies, has been shown to produce the best long-term results when person's receiving it receive the full dose, on time, every time for certain types of cancer. A doctor develops the person's treatment plan scientifically designed for them, based upon the type of cancer, its stage of advancement, and the person's overall health. The plan consists of specific chemotherapy agents at specific intervals and dosages; often referred to as, 'scheduled cycles.' Chemotherapy treatments are commonly given daily, weekly, or monthly; a doctor determines an effective schedule appropriate for the individual with the goal of making chemotherapy as timely, effective and problem-free as possible.

While chemotherapy treatments are fighting cancer, they may also cause side-effects that include a lowered white blood cell count. The person receiving chemotherapy treatment has an increased risk of infection due to a lowered white blood cell count. Depending upon a physician's determination of this count, it could also require their doctor to change the dose or schedule of their chemotherapy. A low white blood cell count that is chemotherapy-induced, causing healthy cells to be lost during treatment, is something that is expected during chemotherapy treatment.

People are able to plan ahead so that it is less likely to disrupt their treatment schedule. People commonly experience a low white blood cell count after receiving specific forms of chemotherapy and their white blood cell count may remain low for several days. To help in reducing side-effects such as low white blood cell count that could interfere with the treatment schedule, it is important to learn about management of chemotherapy side-effects.

There are some circumstances when a doctor might decide that a person's body is too weak to receive chemotherapy. The presence of a low white blood cell count may temporarily stop a person's cancer treatment, or result in their chemotherapy dosage being decreased. Changes to a person's treatment plan may result in their treatment being less effective that it should be.

Side-Effects of Chemotherapy

Undesirable consequences of chemotherapy that affect a person's body, which are not related to cancer, are referred to as, 'complications,' of treatment, or, 'side-effects.'

Common side-effects of chemotherapy can include:

  • Low white blood cell count
  • Low red blood cell count
  • Low platelet count
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue

These side-effects can be temporary and uncomfortable; some may cause a doctor to reduce the dose of chemotherapy, or delay treatment. Some of these side-effects may even be life-threatening. One of the most serious potential side-effects of chemotherapy is a low white blood cell count, referred to as, 'Neutropenia.' Neutropenia may interrupt the person's chemotherapy schedule, as well as place the person at risk for infections which could require hospitalization, or even prove life-threatening. Significant progress has been made in the development of proactive therapies to help people manage chemotherapy side-effects; optimally prior to the interruption of their treatment schedule.

It is very important to understand how to manage the side-effects of chemotherapy if you are going through treatment, or have a loved one who is.

Awareness: Cancer Awareness Information

Lavender awareness ribbonThe lavender colored ribbon brings awareness to all types of cancers. Including cancers that do not have a specific awareness color, or the lavender colored ribbon may be used to represent a variety of different cancers that families might have experienced. February is national cancer prevention month, and world cancer day is on February 4th.

Facts: How is Chemotherapy Administered

Depending on the type of cancer and where it is found, chemotherapy may be given different ways, including:

  • Into an artery.
  • Pills taken by mouth.
  • Into a vein (intravenous, or IV).
  • Injections or shots under the skin.
  • Injections or shots into the muscles.
  • Shots into the fluid around the spinal cord or brain.

Statistics: Chemotherapy

  • An estimated 13.7 million Americans with a history of cancer were alive on January 1, 2012, and by January 1, 2022, that number will increase to nearly 18 million.
  • The 3 most prevalent cancers among males are prostate (43%), colorectal (9%), and melanoma of the skin (7%), and those among females are breast (41%), uterine corpus (8%), and colorectal (8%).

Related Information:

  1. Thomas C. Weiss (Mar 24, 2009). Radiation Therapy for Treatment of Cancer Tumors
    https://www.disabled-world.com/health/cancer/treatment/radiation-therapy.php
  2. Ancient Chinese Herbs eases Chemotherapy Side Effects - Yale University - (2010-08-19)
    https://www.disabled-world.com/medical/alternative/chinese/chemotherapy-herbs.php
  3. Fish Oil Helps with Weight Loss During Chemotherapy - Wiley-Blackwell - (2011-02-28)
    https://www.disabled-world.com/fitness/nutrition/fats-oils/fish-oil-chemotherapy.php


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