Chemotherapy is a widely used treatment option for cancer patients. It refers to the drugs that prevent cancer cells from spreading and growing by killing the dividing cells. On one hand where surgery and radiation therapy can kill cancer cells only in a certain location, chemotherapy can work throughout the whole body. This means chemotherapy can kill cancer cells that have spread (metastasized) to parts of the body far away from the original (primary) tumour.
Chemotherapy helps in curing the cancer, if not cured it stops further cell division and shrinks the tumour size stopping it to spread but if the cancer is at advanced stage chemotherapy act as a palliative treatment option improving the quality of life by shrinking tumour size and help the cancer patients feel better.
PREPARING FOR THE CHEMOTHERAPY
After a detailed physical examination, blood tests and study about your tumour: it’s location, size, understanding how it is affecting normal body function and overall health, oncologists will decide what types of drug or combination of drugs and in what dose will be administered to you and also the duration of treatment. Treatment could occur on one day, followed by a week’s rest, then another one-day treatment followed by a three-week rest period, and so on. This may be repeated many times. Chemotherapy can take anywhere from a few minutes to many hours. Make sure you eat light meal or snacks before the treatment.
ON THE DAY OF CHEMOTHERAPY
Depending on the type of cancer, the patient may take chemotherapy orally, or intravenously injected into the vein or elsewhere.
Orally: If the patient’s health allows, tablets can sometimes be taken at home or under supervision at the hospital and patient will have to make regular hospital visits to check their health and response to treatment. The drug may also be in capsule or liquid form. The dose must be taken exactly when specified. If the patient forgets to take one at a specific time, they should call the medical team immediately.
Intravenous chemotherapy: drug may be injected directly into a vein with a needle or delivered through an intravenous infusion. The drugs can also be given as an injection into a muscle in the arm, thigh, injected into the space between layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord or as an intraperitoneal (IP) injection, delivered directly into the part of the body where the intestines, stomach, and liver are located. The drug may be given through a drip or pushed through a pump, to ensure a constant rate of delivery. Devices used to deliver the solution include a catheter and a central line. Sometimes, it is applied topically, as a cream or ointment for rubbing into the skin.
A psychologist or counsellor will be available to help the patient deal with the mental and emotional ordeal of chemotherapy.
Most of the waste comes out in your body fluids – urine, stool, tears, and vomit. The drugs are also in your blood that’s why 24-48 hours after chemotherapy is crucial as when chemo drugs get outside your body, they can harm or irritate skin – yours or even other people’s. So, you will need to take extra precaution to prevent any hazard to yourself or your family members. Hygiene maintenance is necessary especially after using toilet washing your hands properly and if possible use gloves to touch toilet area. You may feel nauseous so be prompt and clean vigorously after vomiting. You may feel fatigued due to high dose of drugs, so you will be advised to take plenty of rest and avoid tasks that are overtiring.
Typically, chemo sessions are carried out for six months and recovery can take a long time as different people reacts differently to chemotherapy. After your chemotherapy, you will have to continue visits to oncologist and you may need to undergo further scans or X-rays to keep a check on your overall health. You may be able to continue with your life as usual during and after your treatment. You may even feel better as the symptoms of your cancer decrease. Some people may need some time to get back to normal though. Take things at your own pace and don’t overdo it, particularly after you’ve just had treatment. You may feel depressed or low after the sessions and it is advisable to take help from counsellors or family members.
As you adjust to life after chemotherapy, it’s a good time to for you to start making healthy changes to your lifestyle. If your health allows, try to be more physically active, eat more healthily, lose excess weight or give up smoking or any other addictions. Incorporating healthy lifestyle not only helps you to feel better but these may help your body to recover. And also this will help you lower your risk of getting other illnesses, including cancer, in the future.
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Q: How does chemotherapy affects my immune system?
A: Chemotherapy suppresses immune system making you immunocompromised means it is not able to fight infections and it takes 21 to 28 days for your immunity to recover.
Q: How can I cope with tiredness and fatigue post-chemotherapy?
A: You need plenty of rest, mild exercises and eat a healthy balanced diet to ease your tiredness.
Q: How does chemotherapy affects my hairs?
A: Some types of chemotherapy medicine can cause hair loss which usually grows back after several months of chemo although not same as your previous hair pattern.
Q: Is chemotherapy a painful treatment?
A: You may feel mild pain because of needles as chemo drugs don’t cause pain.
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