How Chemotherapy Works to Kill Cancer – Most people have heard of chemotherapy or chemo for short and know why cancer patients use it to treat cancer. But do you know how it works to kill cancer? We are going to discuss that today.
What exactly is chemotherapy
It is important to understand that there are many types of chemo drugs today. In the past, it was standard chemotherapy, which is a chemical drug from an IV that ran through the entire body. Now there are plenty of medicines and different ways the patient can take that drug.
Today, there is still the traditional way through an IV in the vein; but, there are also pills or liquids that can be taken home, implants, that are the size of a dime and come in a wafer form that dissolve, and the patient can take it as a shot between the skin and muscle like insulin injections, and topically in the form of a cream or ointment this is most often used for skin cancers.
How does it work?
How does the chemo really work? The chemotherapy targets the cancer cells and stops them from replicating and taking over the good cells. Some forms block a particular enzyme that the cells need to manufacture new ones. Other forms trap the cancer by sticking to the DNA, locking the double-helix into place.
Your doctor can opt for a more traditional blast of the whole body if the cancer is spreading far from the original site or a more targeted approach if the tumor is still small and in the beginning stages. It will depend on your type of cancer, the subset, and the stage or spreading of the tumor.
A relatively new treatment that doctors will sometimes add to chemo is monoclonal antibodies. These antibodies bind to proteins on the top of cancer cells called antigens. When the antibodies combine with the proteins, it alerts the patient’s own immune system that these cells are bad and need attacking.
Immunotherapy is another new treatment. It jump-starts the patient’s immune system to attack the cancer cells.
What dose of chemo treatments
The dose of your chemotherapy will depend on several factors. These factors include:
- The type and subtype of cancer
- How aggressive the cancer is
- Your overall health
- Any medications you are currently on
- If you have low blood cell counts
- Having liver or kidney disease
How often and how long you will need treatments depends on what type of cancer, how aggressive the cancer is if it has spread, and how well you tolerate treatments. The doctor will base the first calculations on the following:
- The type of cancer
- If you have taken chemo before
- What other health problems if any that you have such as diabetes, liver problems, or heart issues
Depending on how well you tolerate the treatments, the oncologist may raise or lower the dosage. Chemo has side effects that can be mild to severe. Not everyone will experience the same side effects, and some of the lucky few will experience none. The Chemotherapy side effects include:
- Upset stomach
- Losing your hair
- Lack of appetite
- Easily bruise or bleeding such as nose bleeds or gums bleeding
That is why the doctor has to calculate the dosage and sometimes adjust the dosage of chemotherapy. Now, if you experience any of these side effects, speak to your doctor as they may be able to prescribe something that will lower the impact or stop the effects entirely. Remember, you are taking chemo to get rid of cancer, but you do not need to be miserable.
You may want to plan for chemotherapy treatments by having a ride there and back, so you do not have to drive.
If you are taking chemo drugs orally, you will be able to take them home with you, but this will require frequent and regular checkups at the doctors or clinic.
Besides the common side effects of chemotherapy, oral chemo can also present the following issues:
- Lack of feeling, stinging, and pain in your hands or feet
- Problems with recollection or focus
- Skin changes – it can become dry or change in color
You may tolerate oral chemotherapy exceptionally well, while others may not. Work with your doctor if you are not enduring the side effects well. The doctor will be able to adjust the treatment and provide other medications to help relieve the side effects.
The way chemotherapy works vastly better than 30 years or even a decade ago. The doctors can use other therapies with it, to target the cancer directly, and even allow patients to take oral chemo so they can take it at home. Survival rates have also improved over the past decade or two. Chemo can still cause side effects but not nearly as strong or as bad as they were in the 70s or 80s.