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All you need to know about chemotherapy

All you need to know about chemotherapy

Cases of cancer are rising at an alarming rate in India. A recent report by the ICMR warned that the number of cancer cases may rise to 15.7 lakh by 2025 from 13.9 lakh in 2020. However, advances in cancer diagnosis, treatment and care have improved patient outcomes and quality of life considerably. In fact, the Fortis Hospital, Mulund, Maharashtra, is one of the most well-known healthcare setups for cancer treatment in India with cutting-edge technology, experienced and dedicated oncologists. Cancer, if caught early, can be treated successfully. Some of the most common treatment options are surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy. 

Doctors often recommend chemotherapy, also known as chemo, as a treatment for cancer. Read on to learn more about chemotherapy, including how it works and whether the therapy can cause any side effects.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is an aggressive form of treatment for cancer that uses powerful drugs to destroy rapidly growing cells in the body. As cancer cells grow and divide much more quickly than other cells, chemotherapy is used to treat or ease symptoms of cancer. Chemotherapy is often used in combination with other treatments such as surgery and radiation therapy. However, the use of combination therapy depends on various factors, including the stage and type of cancer patients have and their overall health. Chemotherapy can be given in different ways - oral, injection, intravenous, topical, intrathecal, etc.

How does chemotherapy work?

Basically, chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells that grow and divide rapidly than normal cells. The therapy can help ease current symptoms, shrink the tumour size, reduce the likelihood of cancer spreading to other parts of the body. The treatment can work throughout the body unlike other therapies like surgery or radiation, which target specific area. Chemo, when used with other therapies, can also help other treatments work better. Other than cancer, some chemotherapy drugs are being used to treat other conditions like bone marrow diseases and immune system disorders. 

How often should you receive chemotherapy?

Your doctor will determine how often and how long you should get chemotherapy based on the type of drugs you’re getting, the characteristics of your cancer, the goal of treatment, how well your body recovers after each therapy, etc. Treatment schedules for chemo vary widely - it can be continuous, or it may alternate between periods of treatment and periods of rest to allow your body make new healthy cells.

Can chemotherapy cause side effects?

Chemotherapy can cause adverse effects, ranging from mild to severe and depending on the type and extent of the treatment. Common side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mouth sores
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Skin and nail changes

Your doctor can help you manage these side effects with medications and lifestyle modifications.

While the outlook for a person receiving chemotherapy depends largely on the type, stage and location of the cancer, as well as their overall health, the benefits are likely to outweigh any side effects. Perhaps, working closely with your doctor and cancer treatment team will help you achieve optimum results.