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What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment in which medicines are injected into the patient’s body to kill the cancer cells and prevent the cancer from spreading further. This method of treatment is commonly prescribed by cancer doctors (also called oncologists) to be used as an additional, support method to be used with radiation therapy, targeted therapy as well as immunotherapy. There are different medications that are used for chemotherapy treatment. They differ in terms of the way they attack the cancer cells. These drugs basically stop the cancer cells from reproducing and multiplying to stop the spread of cancer to other parts of the body. The drugs used in chemotherapy interfere with the growth cycle of cells wherein they kill cancer cells and prevent the formation of new cancer cells.

When is this procedure performed?

The major benefits of chemotherapy are:
  • Effective treatment option that has the power to destroy cancer cells completely (curative chemotherapy).

  • Helpful as an add-on therapy that increases the effectiveness of other cancer treatments like radiotherapy and cancer surgery.

  • Useful as a pre-treatment before surgery (neo-adjuvant chemotherapy). It is used to reduce the size of the tumor so that it reduces to a size that is easily removed via surgery.

  • Lowers the risk of cancer relapse or recurrence when given after cancer surgery or radiation therapy.

  • Relieves symptoms in patients even if complete cure is not possible (palliative chemotherapy).

  • Chemotherapy is very effective for some patients, while it may not work too well for others. Based on the stage of cancer, the specific type of cancer, the body part that it has affected and the patient’s individual response to treatment, the doctor takes a call on the treatment regime to be used.

  • What are the different methods used for administering chemotherapy?

  • Intravenous chemotherapy:

    In this mode, chemotherapy medication is injected into the patient’s body through a tube that is attached to a vein in the patient’s chest, arm or hand.

  • Oral chemotherapy:

    Here, the patient is asked to consume tablets as part of a medication regime. The patient takes the medicine (tablets) as per the prescribed schedule and visits the hospital for regular check-ups. In some cases, the 2 methods may be combined, depending on the type of chemotherapy medicines that need to be given. Based on the type and combination of medicines that are used, each treatment will last for a few hours or even some days. The entire treatment usually lasts for several weeks or months and is divided into regular sessions with rest periods in between. These breaks between treatments are important for the body to recover from the side effects of chemotherapy treatment.

  • What are the most common medicines used for chemotherapy?

  • COPP:

    cyclophosphamide, Oncovin (vincristine), procarbazine, prednisone

  • CT or TC:

    docetaxel (Taxotere), cyclophosphamide

  • CTD:

    cyclophosphamide, thalidomide, dexamethasone

  • CVAD and Hyper CVAD:

    cyclophosphamide, vincristine, doxorubicin (Adriamycin), dexamethasone The doctor will consider the type of cancer, the place in the body where it is and the extent of spread of the disease.

  • Are there any side effects of chemotherapy?

    When chemotherapy is given to a patient, the medication kills some healthy cells along with the cancer cells because it is directed at a certain area. Depending on which healthy cells are affected (damaged or destroyed), the patient suffers from side effects. For example, in certain cases, the medication affects the hair follicles, causing hair loss. When chemotherapy damages stomach cells, digestion may be affected. Similarly, whichever cells end up being damaged by the chemotherapy, that organ or body part is affected till the time new cells are not generated. So, these effects are temporary and wear off once the treatment is stopped. The most common side effects of chemotherapy are as follows: Tiredness, Anemia, Nausea, Loff of hair, Lower immunity, Sore mouth, Indigestion, including diarrhea & constipation, Loss of appetite, Bruising, Bleeding. A lot of these side effects are treatable or even preventable. Most of them also subside once the chemotherapy sessions are completed. It is vital that the entire chemotherapy session be completed properly because this contributes considerably to the treatment result and survival chances. Here are some steps that can be taken to minimize the effects of these side effects and improve the chances of completing the chemotherapy session well. • Adequate rest to maintain energy levels • Avoid tasks that feel too difficult or draining • Get help from friends for daily tasks • Ask the doctor for medicines to manage nausea and indigestion • Explore options of wig, headscarf or other headgears to deal with hair loss • Stay up to date with your vaccines • Avoid contact with people with an infection • Include iron-rich foods to prevent anemia • Maintain regular mealtimes • Take small snacks • Counselling to deal with the disease

    When is urgent medical care required?

    If the patient’s body temperature rises about 37.5°C or falls below 36°C, if there is shivering, the skin feels warm, there is breathing trouble, the person feels muscle pain, there is pain while swallowing, or other uneasy sensations, it is time to consult a doctor.

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    DisclaimerThe cost of chemotherapy depends on the following factors: the city, the hospital that is selected, the complexity of the procedure and the room chosen by the patient. The price range mentioned here is an approximation of the surgery cost; Bajaj Finserv Health does not claim that these prices are an exact estimate. For exact information about surgery charges, it is best inquire at the selected hospital.