Chemotherapy What You Need to Know – If you or a loved one had a diagnosis of cancer previously, then the chances are that you know what chemotherapy is or at least heard of chemotherapy.
For those who are just receiving that diagnosis, you probably have no idea what chemo is. Or how it works, or the side effects it can cause.
What is chemo
First, let’s discuss what chemo is. Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses powerful chemicals to kill fast replicating cells. There are many different chemo drugs available for treatment. The procedure can be stand-alone or in combination with radiation or other therapies such as immunotherapy.
While chemotherapy is effective in fighting cancer, it has side effects. Those side effects may be treatable and some may cause serious difficulties.
Some of the side effects include:
- Losing your hair
- Lack of appetite
- Lesions in your mouth
- Running a temperature
- Easily bruises
- Bleeding from gums or nose bleeds
While those are the most common side effects, there is also the chance you could have an allergic reaction. The majority of those issues can be treated and will go away after treatment ends. If you experience any of these side effects, talk to your doctor.
The side effects that can cause lasting problems are:
- Harm to lung tissue
- Heart difficulties
- Inability to have children
- Kidney disease
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Risk of a second cancer
Discuss these possibilities with your doctor but remember the doctor is prescribing chemo as a treatment to your cancer.
Determining which chemo drugs you will use
As to which chemotherapy drugs you will use will depend on a few factors. Those factors are:
- The type of cancer you have
- How far advanced it is or the stage it is in
- Your overall health
- Whether you have had previous cancer treatments
- Your goals and preferences
- Family history
Your doctor will present you with the options; ask any questions you have about each option. Discuss the side effects and what you will need to do to prepare. Then your doctor and you can decide which option will best serve you to treat your cancer.
How is chemotherapy administered?
Chemo is administered in three main ways. Those are:
The injection can be done in several ways. The ways range from:
- Between the skin and muscle like insulin
- Through a vein
- Directly into the cancer
It will depend on the dosage, your type and stage of cancer, and your overall health. Which way you will use chemo will be decided by you and your doctor.
When doing chemo orally, you must follow the instructions thoroughly. If you miss a dose, go to your doctor right away. There is a precise schedule; you need to follow for doses. If you miss a treatment, that will change things. So make sure to speak to your doctor right away. It may be best to set an alarm reminder for each time you have to take a dose.
Injections like insulin between the skin and muscle can be done at home as can the orally taken treatment. You may even feel well enough to go to work at first. However, you will be required to visit your doctor’s office regularly for checkups.
The implant is used after surgery for brain cancer. The surgeon will implant up to eight wafers, about the size of a dime, into the area of the tumor. It takes roughly two to three weeks for the crackers to dissolve, providing the area chemotherapy. The goal of this is to kill any tumors that are left behind.
Chemo given by an IV may be an afternoon or a day at the hospital or an overnight. It will depend on the dose.
Doses can be adjusted over time as the cancer begins to die and tumors shrink. It can also be adjusted to allow the patient to better handle the side effects. No matter what type of delivery system or drug you use the goal is to shrink the tumor for surgery or kill the cancer completely.
What you will need to do ahead of time
Plan or schedule your chemotherapy for a time when you have the help getting to and from the appointment. That means you need a driver. If you have young kids who may need rides to school activities, speak to other parents from school or family members about being a driver.
Ask family and friends if they would help with cooking and cleaning while you go through chemo. There are two reasons for this; first, it will provide you some company. Second, it will give you peace of mind when you are exhausted that the needs will not go unmet.
Remember chemotherapy is about getting rid of cancer and be healthy.