What is chemotherapy? What are the side effects? How many types of chemotherapy are there? Is there any treatment other than chemotherapy? How long does chemotherapy treatment take? You can find the answers to all these questions and much more below.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs for cancer. Cancer is the abnormal growth of cells. Normally, old or damaged cells in the body stop dividing and die. Healthy young cells replace these cells. Cancer occurs when old or damaged cells divide and multiply uncontrollably. Cancer cells multiply rapidly even when your body signals them to stop.

Chemotherapy works by slowing or stopping these rapidly growing cells. The goal of chemotherapy may be to treat cancer, control cancer, or relieve cancer symptoms. The side effects of chemotherapy can be serious, such as hair loss. However, chemotherapy is only one method of treating cancer. You may also have other treatment options. That’s why you may want to consider getting a second opinion on all of your treatment options before undergoing chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy: Types

Types of chemotherapy include:

  1. Regional chemotherapy affects a specific area of ​​your body rather than your entire body. Regional chemotherapy targets a tumor or tumors in an area. It may also help reduce the side effects of a large tumor, such as a tumor pressing on another body part that is causing pain.
  2. Systemic chemotherapy affects your entire body or system. It targets cancer cells that may have spread to different parts of your body.

Chemotherapy: reasons for use

Chemotherapy treats many types of cancer. Your doctor may use chemotherapy in the following ways:

  1. Adjuvant chemotherapy (to destroy any remaining cancer cells after surgery or radiation therapy)
  2. Concurrent chemotherapy (to work together with surgery or radiation therapy to help it work better)
  3. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy (helps shrink tumors before surgery or radiation therapy)
  4. Relieving symptoms caused by tumors or cancer cells, such as pain or bleeding
  5. Treatment for recurrent or metastatic cancers (recurring cancers are cancers that come back after treatment; metastatic cancers are cancers that have spread to other parts of the body)

Chemotherapy: The person who will administer it to the patient

Chemotherapy is given by a variety of healthcare professionals, depending on the type of cancer and chemotherapy. Specially trained oncology nurses often administer injections and intravenous chemotherapy. You can also give yourself oral or topical chemotherapy at home. Doctors administer some types of chemotherapy, such as chemotherapy that is injected directly into a tumor.

Doctors who lead care teams who give and monitor chemotherapy include:

  • Gynecological oncologists are obstetricians who specialize in diagnosing and treating cancer of the female reproductive system, such as ovarian or cervical cancer.
  • Hematologists are internal medicine doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of blood disorders.
  • Medical oncologists are doctors of internal medicine who specialize in diagnosing cancer and treating it with chemotherapy and other nonsurgical treatments.
  • Pediatric hematologist-oncologists are pediatricians who specialize in diagnosing and treating blood disorders and cancer in children.
  • Surgical oncologists are surgeons who specialize in treating patients with cancerous and noncancerous (benign) tumors with surgery and other treatments.
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Chemotherapy: Application methods

Your chemotherapy will usually be given in an outpatient or hospital setting. But you can also get some types of chemotherapy at home. You may receive chemotherapy through a variety of methods or devices, such as:

  • Central venous catheters are thin, soft, hollow tubes sometimes called long lines. One end of the catheter fits into a large vein, usually in your chest. The other end stays outside your body, on the outside of your chest or arm. Your care team may use a catheter to deliver systemic chemotherapy, medications, fluids, and blood transfusions. Your care team may also draw blood from the catheter. Examples include peripherally inserted central catheters, midline catheters, and tunneled central venous catheters. In this chemotherapy procedure, your doctor inserts a catheter during a short outpatient surgical procedure. This catheter remains in place until all chemotherapy sessions are completed. Your doctor will remove your catheter during another short outpatient procedure.
  • Implantable venous access ports are small discs made of plastic or metal. Just under the skin of your chest is a port. A catheter inserted into the port goes into a large vein, usually in your chest. Your care team may use a port to deliver systemic chemotherapy, medications, fluids, and blood transfusions. Your care team may also draw blood from a port. In this type of chemotherapy, your doctor inserts a port during an outpatient surgical procedure. The port remains in place until all chemotherapy sessions have been completed. Your doctor will remove your port during another short outpatient procedure.
  • Injections are drugs that are a form of systemic chemotherapy. Your nurse will give you the needle intramuscularly (intramuscularly) or under your skin (subcutaneously).
  • Intravenous chemotherapy is injected into an artery that feeds your tumor directly. Administering this chemotherapy is limited to certain areas of your body. It is a regional form of chemotherapy.
  • Intracavitary chemotherapy is put directly into your affected body cavity. Examples include your bladder and abdominal cavity (peritoneum). It is a form of regional chemotherapy.
  • Intralesional chemotherapy is injected directly into a tumor or cancerous area. If your doctor can reach the tumor safely with a needle, he or she can use this method. It is a form of regional chemotherapy.
  • Oral medications are pills, tablets, capsules, or liquids that you take by mouth. These are a type of systemic chemotherapy.
  • Peripheral infusions  slowly drip chemotherapy drug through an intravenous line. This is a form of systemic chemotherapy.
  • Topical medications are creams and lotions that doctors usually   prescribe to treat skin cancer . These are a form of regional chemotherapy.

Your doctor will advise you on which chemotherapy method is best for you based on your diagnosis, age, medical history, general health, and possibly personal preferences. It will be comforting to learn about the different types of chemotherapy and why your doctor will use a particular type for you.

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Will there be pain in chemotherapy?

For some types of chemotherapy, you may feel a brief stinging or stinging during intravenous or needle insertion. These include chemotherapy through infusion, injection, or a subcutaneous intravenous access port. But to help you relax, taking a few long, deep breaths will do the trick. If any discomfort does not go away quickly or if you encounter any other problems during chemotherapy, be sure to inform your doctor.

Types of anesthesia that can be used

You will receive regional anesthesia (nerve block) to numb the pain while inserting a central venous catheter or port. A nerve block numbs the area where your doctor placed the device. You can also have sedation to keep you relaxed and comfortable.

Chemotherapy: Side effects

Most chemotherapy is monitored with periodic blood tests. This ensures that you get the right amount of chemotherapy. It also helps to control problems caused by chemotherapy.

Side effects are likely with chemotherapy because of the way it works. Chemotherapy works by slowing or stopping rapidly multiplying cells. Your body normally has certain cells that multiply rapidly. Examples are the cells of your hair follicles and the lining of your digestive tract. Chemotherapy can also damage these normal cells, causing side effects.

Some chemotherapy drugs carry more risks than others. You can get the necessary information by consulting your doctor about the specific risks and complications of your chemotherapy.

General risks and potential complications of chemotherapy include:

  • Anemia caused by low red blood cells (symptoms include fatigue, weakness and shortness of breath)
  • bleeding from low blood platelets
  • cold sensitivity, numbness or tingling
  • Diarrhea
  • burnout
  • hair loss
  • Infection from low white blood cells
  • mouth sores
  • Nausea and vomiting

Reducing the risk of complications

You can reduce the risk of certain complications by following your treatment plan and practicing the following:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
  • Follow your doctor’s activity, diet, lifestyle restrictions and recommendations
  • Inform your doctor if you are breastfeeding or may be pregnant
  • Going to all scheduled appointments, including lab tests to monitor your blood cell count
  • Not to skip your chemotherapy sessions without consulting your doctor
  • Report any concerns you have such as bleeding, fever, or increased pain to your doctor immediately.
  • taking your medications exactly as directed
  • Inform your doctor if you have any allergies

Chemotherapy: the preparatory phase

Keep in mind that you are an important member of your own healthcare team. Because the steps you take before chemotherapy can improve your comfort and outcome. 

Here’s how you can prepare for chemotherapy:

  • Answering all questions about your medical history and medications: This includes prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbal treatments, and vitamins. It’s a good idea to always carry an up-to-date list of your medical conditions, medications, and allergies with you.
  • Arranging an escort: It is recommended that you arrange for someone to go home before your procedure or treatment appointment.
  • Eating and drinking: You should follow directions for eating or drinking just before your procedure or treatment.
  • Getting tested as directed : The test will vary depending on your age, health, and specific chemotherapy. Tests may include X-rays or other imaging tests, blood tests, biopsies, and other tests as needed.
  • Taking or stopping medications exactly as directed: You  should take the medications your doctor has prescribed and stop the medications that they want you to stop.
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What to ask your doctor

Preparing for chemotherapy can be stressful. It is common for patients to forget some of their questions during a doctor’s office visit. You can think of other questions after your appointment. Contacting your doctor for concerns and questions before chemotherapy and between appointments will reduce your worries.

It’s also a good idea to bring a list of questions to your appointments. Possible questions include:

  • Why do I need chemotherapy? Are there other options for treating my condition?
  • Do I also need other treatments such as surgery or radiation?
  • What is the purpose of chemotherapy in my case? Will chemotherapy cure my cancer?
  • How will we know my chemotherapy is working? If it doesn’t work, are there other options for treating my cancer?
  • How long will I need chemotherapy? How often will I need it? When can I go home after each treatment?
  • What restrictions will I have? Will I be able to work, go to school and engage in other activities?
  • How will you treat my pain?
  • What kind of help will I need at home? Will I need to go home?
  • How should I take my medication?
  • Does my insurance cover chemotherapy? Is there any help available? What records do I need to keep?
  • When will I get the results of any test?
  • How should I contact you?

Chemotherapy: Post-treatment

Knowing what to expect after chemotherapy treatment can help you get back to your daily life as soon as possible.

How will I feel after the treatment?

You may feel tired or exhausted after chemotherapy. This is the most common side effect of chemotherapy. You should consider your doctor’s recommendations for resting after chemotherapy. Other effects vary from person to person. Your doctor will give you pain medication to control pain as needed. If you are on sedatives or pain medications, you may feel a little sleepy.

When can I go home?

You can go home right after your outpatient chemotherapy treatment. If you have a central venous catheter or port placement procedure, you will go home when the main effects of sedation have passed and you are fully awake, breathing effectively, and your other vital signs are stable. It is also recommended that you have a companion with you to return home after your procedure or chemotherapy treatment.

When should I see my doctor?

It is important to make follow-up appointments after chemotherapy. It is recommended that you see your doctor if you have any concerns between appointments, including:

  • bleeding on your skin, bruising, red patches, black or  bloody stools , bleeding from your nose or mouth, unusual or abnormal vaginal or menstrual bleeding
  • Cough, chills, rash, headache , earache, or stiff neck
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty urinating, pain when urinating , frequent urination, or bloody or cloudy urine
  • Dizziness, confusion, memory problems, weakness, drowsiness, vision changes, or loss of balance and coordination
  • High fever
  • sores or pain in your mouth
  • Pain that is not controlled by your pain medication
  • signs of infection (redness, swelling, pain, tenderness) around your catheter or port
  • skin changes
  • Nausea and vomiting lasting more than 24 hours 

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