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Chemotherapy for Cancer Care: Common Myths, Facts & Expectations

Medical Tourism Treatment

The chances of developing one form of cancer or the other increases in people as people age naturally. Depending on the type of cancer that they get, the oncologist may choose one or a combination of treatment options used to cure cancer – and chemotherapy is one of them.

Chemotherapy treatment is, in fact, one of the most popular and widely-available options for cancer. This treatment is used to treat different types of cancer effectively by either killing off cancer cells or by preventing them from dividing any further.

Chemotherapy treatment is mostly available in all major cancer treatment hospitals in the world. Many medical tourists prefer to undergo cancer treatment in India because of affordable cost of chemotherapy, surgery, and other types of cancer treatment.

This article discusses everything about chemotherapy treatment, its usage, types, best candidates, side effects, and procedure. In addition, it delves into some of the common misconceptions and facts associated with chemotherapy treatment.

Chemotherapy: An Introduction

Undergoing chemotherapy can be a painful experience for both the patient and their family member. It can be difficult and extremely fearing, thus affecting the course of cancer treatment that the patient chooses for himself or herself in the future.

Chemotherapy can be administered in a number of ways (discussed later). Chemotherapy treatment involves administration of specific anti-cancer drugs to control malignant tumors or cancerous cells that otherwise grow rapidly. It kills some of the cancer cells while affecting others in a way that they are not able to multiply any further. However, during the process, some of the healthy cells are also affected.

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Who needs chemotherapy and when?

More than 50 percent of the people suffering from some form of cancer are required to undergo chemotherapy. The rest can be treated with the help of other types of treatment options for cancer.

The need for chemotherapy treatment depends on several factors. For example, it depends on the stage of cancer, its location, its size, the extent of its spread, and the type of cancer. Each chemotherapy drug works differently and there is a specific drug for each type of cancer. Thus, it does not mean that a chemotherapy drug is available for the treatment of each type of cancer.

Chemotherapy is not useful in the treatment of types of cancer. For example, some types of cancer can be treated only with the help of surgery or a combination of radiation therapy and surgery. On the other hand, some cancers are treated just with the help of chemotherapy or in combination with other types of treatment (surgery, hormone therapy, or radiation therapy).

A cancer patient may need chemotherapy treatment at different stages of their cancer treatment. The decision to conduct chemotherapy treatment lies with the doctor, who is the best person to identify the actual time of chemotherapy drug administration.

Depending on the condition of the patient and the characteristics of cancer, chemotherapy treatment may be administered at the following intervals:

  • Before the surgery to shrink the size of tumor
  • After surgery to kill off remaining cancer cells or stop them from growing back again in future
  • As an independent treatment if the cancer is sensitive to the drug
  • As a combination treatment for cancer that has spread to other locations

Cancer treatment in India typically involves administration of chemotherapy drugs as it proves to be more convenient because of several reasons. First, the best hospitals for cancer treatment in India house some of the top oncologists in the world with a great knowledge about the use of anti-cancer drugs. Second, the cost of chemotherapy drugs in India is much lower than other countries because of in-house manufacturing of most of the drugs.

Selection of Chemotherapy Drugs

There are thousands of chemotherapy treatment drugs available today that have a different mechanism of action altogether. There is a different drug meant for use in the case of specific types of cancer and therefore, only a doctor is the best person to decide which drug must be administered to the patient.rate
The doctor’s decision to use a specific type of drug for the treatment of cancer depends on several factors. Some of the factors that dictate this decision include the following:

  • General Health of the Patient: Chemotherapy is administered only to those patients who can tolerate the drugs and are in the best shape to tolerate the toxicity of the drugs. Old and frail patients, for the same reason, are not the best candidates for chemotherapy. The benefits of chemotherapy must outweigh the risks.
  • Scientific Data: The doctors also like to analyze the data available from scientific studies and clinical trials before using the drug. The development of new drugs and their safety trials are an ongoing thing and doctors may decide in the favour of or against the drug depending on the available data and evidence.
  • Rate of Response: The doctors also consider the rate of response of cancer to the specific type of chemotherapy drugs before choosing it for administration. For example, a specific type and stage of cancer may only have a 50 percent response rate to a specific combination of drugs and 70 percent to another. Therefore, the doctor may decide in the favour of the latter. They may also evaluate the risks associated with both of them before making the decision.

Mechanism of Action

Chemotherapy treatment works by destroying the genetic machinery or DNA of the cells that grow too fast, which are most often the cancer cells. The disruption in the genetic machinery affects the cancer cells by either killing them off or by damaging their mechanism of multiplying any further.
Because chemotherapy drugs work on rapidly-dividing cells, they also end up damaging some of the healthy cells that are in their growth phase. Drugs do not kill healthy cells but stop them from growing further.

Each type of chemotherapy drug works differently on different body parts. Therefore, the drug means for breast cancer treatment would not prove to be effective in the case of lung cancer treatment. Similarly, the drug used to treat cancer that has spread to the lung is different from the one used to treat cancer that started in the lung itself.

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Types of Chemotherapy Administration

Chemotherapy drugs can be administered in a number of ways, and most of them are not known to the general population. The following are some of the common ways through which the doctor may decide to administer chemotherapy drugs

  • Oral Administration: Oral chemotherapy drugs are available in the form of pills, capsules, syrup, and tablets. The outer coatings of these medications are digested by the juice in the stomach and the medication is absorbed. Some oral medications are absorbed under the tongue.
  • Intra-muscular Injection: Some drugs are administered into the muscle layer through the skin. These drugs are harsh and are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • Intra-arterial Administration: Some drugs are directly injected into the artery that supplies blood to the tumor. This is done with the help of a pump or an external catheter.
  • Subcutaneous Injection: Some drugs are administered into the space between the skin and the muscle with the help of a small needle.
  • Intravenous Administration: This is the most common type of chemotherapy administration. The drug is directly injected into the bloodstream and is quickly absorbed. Different types of catheters maybe used to deliver drugs in this type of chemotherapy treatment.
  • Intraventricular Administration: Some drugs are directly injected into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) present in the brain and the spinal cord with the help of lumber puncture or Ommaya reservoir.

Other types of chemotherapy drug administration include intra-pleural, intra-vesicular, and peritoneal administration. The drugs can also be delivered with the help of topical creams as in the case of skin cancer and implantable wafers.

All these modes of chemotherapy administration are conducted at the best hospitals for cancer treatment in India.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy treatment works by targeting the active cells that grow rapidly – be it cancer cells or healthy cells. Whenever chemotherapy drugs affect healthy cells, some serious side effects are bound to take place.

The following are some of the side effects of chemotherapy:

  • Excessive hair loss
  • Muscle pain, headache, and stomach pain
  • Nerve damage
  • Numbness or burning sensation
  • Diarrhea, dehydration, and loss of body fluid
  • Mucositis characterized by throat and mouth sores
  • Infrequent bowel movement
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blood disorders
  • Thinking and memory alteration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fertility issues

Common Misconceptions and Facts

Myth #1: All chemotherapy drugs can be administered orally
Fact: Some of the medications are destroyed by the acid in the stomach, rendering them ineffective. Therefore, not all of them can be administered orally.

Myth #2: Chemotherapy treatment is too painful
Fact: Chemotherapy treatment itself is not at all painful. But the side effects that it causes could be painful.

Myth #3: Immune system is severely compromised after chemotherapy treatment
Fact: Chemotherapy treatment may have some effect on the immune system. However, it is not severe enough to invite any bacterial or viral infections, or for that matter any other disease.

Myth #4: All people lose hair after chemotherapy treatment
Fact: Chemotherapy drugs may destroy hair follicles, leading to hair fall. However, not all drugs work that way. Some drugs may not result in hair fall at all. Moreover, a new set of chemotherapy drugs are being produced and used that target only the cellular machinery of the cancer cells and leaves healthy cells as it is.

Myth #5: Chemotherapy treatment is universal and there is only one type
Fact: There are different types of chemotherapies that differ with respect to the type of drug used and the mode of administration. Two cancer patients with the same form of cancer may be treated with the help of different drugs using an individualized approach.

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