5 Essential Things to Know About Chemotherapy

These days, most people either know a friend or family member that has had cancer, or they have been diagnosed with cancer themselves.  Unfortunately, it seem sit has become incredibly commonplace.  But, even though cancer may be very prevalent these days, it will never feel “commonplace” if it happens to you.  Most people have heard of chemotherapy and know that it is a medication that helps fight and hopefully beat cancer but most people probably do not know much about cancer unless they have been through it or supported someone through it.  There are, in fact, a variety of chemotherapy treatments that a patient and their doctor choose from depending on the specific diagnosis.  Below we discuss 5 things you should know about chemotherapy before you begin treatment.

1. What Is Chemotherapy?

  • Before you begin chemotherapy, you should know exactly what it is.  The American Cancer Society describes what chemotherapy is and how it works, “Chemotherapy is the use of strong drugs to treat cancer. You will often hear chemotherapy called “chemo,” (key-mo) but it’s the same treatment. Chemo was first used to treat cancer in the 1950s. It has helped many people live full lives. The chemo drugs your doctor or nurse gives you have been tested many times. Research shows they work to help kill cancer cells.  There are more than 100 chemo drugs used today. Doctors choose certain drugs based on the kind of cancer you have and its stage (how much cancer is in your body). Chemo can be used for different reasons. Your doctor will discuss these with you before you start treatment.  The body is made up of trillions of normal healthy cells. Cancer starts when something causes changes in a normal cell. This cancer cell then grows out of control and makes more cancer cells. Each type of cancer affects the body in different ways. If cancer is not treated, it can spread and affect the rest of your body. Your doctor may suggest chemo to cure your cancer. Sometimes the goal is to slow the growth of the cancer. Other times the goal may be to reduce symptoms or problems caused by growing tumors so that you feel better. Chemo is often used to fight cancers that have spread to other parts of the body (metastasized – meh-TAS-tuh-sized). Be sure to talk to your doctor about the goal of your treatment. Chemo kills cancer cells. These drugs can affect normal cells, too. But most normal cells can repair themselves.”

2. How Is Type of Chemotherapy Determined for Treatment?

  • With so many different types of chemotherapy, how do you know what will treat your cancer best?  Your doctor will be an invaluable tool in determining you best course of treatment but your treatment options will also be determined by a few other factors.  The type of chemotherapy that you will use for treatment will be determined by the type of cancer you have and the stage at which you are diagnosed.  Additionally, whether or not you have received chemotherapy before will play a role in determining what chemotherapy you get during treatment.  Lastly, your personal health history and whether or not you have other confounding health issues will help determine the type of chemotherapy you receive.

3. How is Chemotherapy Administered?

  • Chemotherapy can be administered in a number of ways including orally, topically, intravenous, injection, intra-arterial, and intraperotoneal.

4. How Often Will I Get Chemotherapy

  • How often you receive chemotherapy varies greatly from case to case depending on diagnosis, the type of chemotherapy and the goals of treatment.  It may be continuous or it may alternate with periods of rest in between depending on your physician-determined course of treatment.

5. What Will Chemotherapy Feel Like?

  • How you feel during chemotherapy depends on a number of factors including the type of chemotherapy, the stage of diagnosis, personal health history and the patient’s ability to cope with symptoms.  For some people, effects may be immediate and for others, symptoms may take days or even weeks to develop.  Common side effects of chemotherapy include fatigue and nausea.  For some, it is small bouts from which they can recover quickly and for others, the effects may last longer.  It is important to manage your symptoms at your own pace and ensure that you are taking care of yourself during treatment.

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