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Chemotherapy Explained



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Chemotherapy began in 1940 with the use of nitrogen mustard and folic acid, an antagonistic drug. According to Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia, two pharmacologists Louis S. Goodman and Alfred Gilman were recruited by the United States Department of Defense to investigate the potential therapeutic applications of chemical warfare agents as an effective treatment for cancer.

Autopsy observation of people exposed to mustard gas had revealed profound lymphoid and myeloid suppression. Goodman and Gilman reasoned that this agent could be used to treat lymphoma, since lymphoma is a tumor of lymphoid cells. This was the beginning of chemotherapy as the treatment for cancer. Today chemotherapy is used to treat cancer patients all over the world and it has grown into a multi-billion industry. More than fifty percent of all patients diagnosed with cancer get chemotherapy treatment.

WHAT IS CHEMOTHERAPY?
Chemotherapy is a terminology used to describe any treatment involving the use of chemical agents to stop the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy is a systemic approach that can destroy or eliminate cancer cells that have metastasized (spread) from the original site of the cancer to another part of the body.

WHAT CAN CHEMOTHERAPY DO?
Chemotherapy will do three things:

CURE CANCER
This happens when the chemotherapy treatment destroys the cancer cell to the degree that your medical team cannot detect the cancer cells in your body and they will not grow back.
These are the patients that joyfully state, "I am cancer free"

CONTROL CANCER
In this case the chemotherapy treatment keeps the cancer from spreading. By slowing the growth of the cells or destroys the cells that had spread to other parts of your body.

ERASE THE CANCER SYMPTOMS Cancer Symptoms
This happens when the chemotherapy shrinks the tumor that was causing the pain or pressure and the symptoms disappear.

HOW DOES CHEMOTHERAPY WORK?
To understand how chemotherapy works you must understand that the cells in your body are always being renewed.
These cells have a cell cycle that consists of phases.
Both normal cells and cancer cells go through these phases to form new cells.





THERE ARE FIVE PHASES OF A CELL CYCLE.
Phase 1...Resting phase, no division of cells occurs.

Phase 2...Cells make more proteins and are getting bigger, this last for 18-30 hours.

Phase 3...DNA are copied and the two new cells formed have matching DNA strands.
This phase last for 18-20 hours.

Phase 4...The cell checks the DNA and prepares to split into two cells.
This phase lasts from 2-10 hours.

Phase 5...The cell splits into two new cells. This phase lasts for 30-60 minutes.
These two new cells are identical and can go through this cell cycle again
when needed.

The cell cycle is important for your doctor (oncologist) because your treatment is based on the timing of the cell cycle which predicts the choice of chemotherapy drug, treatment plan and treatment schedule to be used for your care.

Some chemotherapy drugs work better in specific stages of a cell cycle than others.

Cancer cells may grow rapidly or slowly, so, the drug treatment of choice is targeted on the growth pattern of the specific type of cancer cells.

METHODS OF ADMINISTRATING CHEMOTHERAPY
The following routes may be used depending on the chemotherapy drug used and the site of your cancer.

1. INJECTION: The chemotherapy is given as a shot in the muscle of your arm, leg, belly or hip. It may also be given under your skin subcutaneously in the fatty part of you arm, leg, or belly.

2. INTRA-ARTERIALI: The drug goes directly to the artery that is feeding the cancer.

3. INTRAVENOUSI: The drug is given directly through a vein.

4. INTRA-THECAL and INTRAVENTRICULAR: The drug is given as a shot into the fluid surrounding the brain or spinal cord.

5. INTRA-PERITONEAL: The drug goes directly into the peritoneal cavity; the cavity contains the stomach, liver, intestines and the ovaries.

6. TOPICALLY: The chemotherapy drug comes in the form of a cream that is applied to your skin or scalp.

7. ORALLY: the drug is taken by mouth in the form of pills, capsules or liquid.

Treatment may be administered once a day, once a week or once a month.



SIDE EFFECTS OF CHEMOTHERAPY ARE:
Low white blood cell count, this is called neutropenia.

Low white blood is critical because these blood cells are needed to fight infections. Neutropenia could interrupt your treatment plan and treatment schedule and cause hospitalization.

Low red blood cell count called anemia which can cause weakness.

Low platelet count also called thrombocytopenia; this causes bruising or excessive bleeding.

Nausea and vomiting

Hair loss

Pain

Diarrhea

Constipation

Fatigue
Forgetfulness

Numbness and Tingling

Inability to concentrate

Reproductive and sexual side effects. Sexuality may be low or totally gone during the treatment but it returns after the treatment.

Chemotherapy destroys hair and blood because it cannot distinguish the difference between the cancer cells and your normal healthy fast growing cells.

TO PREVENT OR REDUCE THE SIDE EFFECTS
The following will help:
Medications can be prescribed to avoid nausea and vomiting.

Growth factor drugs maybe prescribed to help protect the bone marrow from the chemotherapy drugs which will counteract the low red blood cells, white blood cells and the platelets.

Blood transfusions may also be administered to help with effects of low blood cells.

Chemotherapy has made a tremendous impact in the treatment of cancer over the years.
Research continues regarding improving chemotherapy and its effect in the treatment of cancer cells.



RESOURCES
Cancer Guide www.cancerguide.org
National Cancer Institute Cancer Information www.cancer.gov.
American Cancer Society www.cancer.org
Oncology Nursing Society www.ons.org

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