Chemotherapy Treatment: Uses, Side Effects, Costs and Facts

Are you or someone close to you starting chemotherapy treatment? Chemotherapy (simply called chemo treatment) is a combination of medications used to destroy cancer cells or at least delay the growth of these cells. Most individuals tend to endure this kind of treatment regularly and often they don’t cure the disease entirely. There are certain people, for example, who have endured eight rounds or more with these chemotherapies because cancer tends to keep coming back or growing.

Many people equate chemotherapy treatment immediately with something that is unpleasant and horrible, but this is not actually the case at all. Although it might not be the most exciting thing you’ll ever do, there’s more to it than meets the eye. That’s why familiarizing yourself with the medication is important, and learning as best as you can about it will go a long way to help.

What Is Chemotherapy Treatment?

Chemotherapy treatment involves the use of certain drugs that are used to cure cancer, to reduce the chance of cancer returning, or to shrink cancer and to prolong life.

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Chemotherapy is administered in cycles. This means that there is a gap between the overall weeks of the chemo treatment before the patient is taken into the next cycle. This gap is designed to give time for patients to heal from the previous dose received.

Chemotherapy medications are very active and therefore destroy even the healthy cells in the body. Destruction of these healthy cells can induce certain side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation, reduced appetite, mouth sores, food flavour changes, inflammation, hair loss, etc. These side effects were however minimized with newer, more targeted therapies.

Who Discovered Chemotherapy Treatment?

The prolific German chemist, Paul Ehrlich, set about producing medicines for the treatment of infectious diseases in the early 1900s. He was the one who coined and defined the term “chemotherapy” as the use of chemicals to treat disease.

Paul Ehrlich
Paul Ehrlich
Image credit: Wikimedia

He was also the first person to log animal model’s efficacy in evaluating a collection of chemicals for their possible disease-fighting action, an accomplishment that had significant implications for the production of cancer medicines. His usage of the rabbit model for syphilis in 1908 contributed to the production of arsenicals for managing this disease.

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Ehrlich also had an interest in cancer therapy medicines, including aniline dyes and the first basic alkylating agents, but was evidently not confident about the possibility of its success. Read More.

How Does Chemotherapy Work?

Chemotherapy acts by interrupting cell division and other activities between cells during various stages of the life cycle of a cancer cell: when DNA replicates itself when the cell divides, and when the cell conducts its usual functions. At every point in the cell’s life cycle, alkylating agents bind an alkyl group such as a methyl group (CH3) to the DNA of a cancer cell. The cell attempts to repair the damage to DNA by using special proteins called repair enzymes, but instead, the enzymes tear apart the DNA.

Alternatively, an alkylating agent like cyclophosphamide has an alkyl component that binds to two molecules of DNA. The molecules of DNA are then fused together, and can no longer replicate themselves.

The medical information provided in this article is provided as an information resource only. This information does not create any patient-physician relationship and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.

Antimetabolites mimic natural metabolites (chemicals that are vital to life) and interfere with normal processes in a cancer cell, including those required for replication of DNA. The medication methotrexate, for example, is identical to folate, a vitamin necessary for replication of DNA in all cells. Folate binds itself to a protein to create an enzyme, a type of protein that accelerates chemical cell reactions. The enzyme in effect produces the requisite molecules for producing DNA. When methotrexate binds itself to the protein instead of folate, the resulting molecule can not act as an enzyme, preventing replication of DNA.

female soldier receiving chemotherapy treatment
female soldier receiving chemotherapy treatment

Chemotherapy medications include many other methods of destroying cancer cells. Drugs manufactured with the platinum element, as alkylating agents do, allow two DNA molecules to attach to each other. Mitotic antagonists restrict the cell nucleus from splitting (mitosis). Antitumor antibiotics attach to DNA which inhibits the development of RNA. To feed itself a tumor will grow fresh blood vessels, a cycle called angiogenesis.

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Drugs for antiangiogenesis are being studied which prevent the formation of new blood vessels in tumours. New chemotherapy techniques being tested include liposomal therapy, in which drugs are inserted within liposomes (artificial fat globules) which penetrate cancer cells more readily than normal cells, thereby reducing the side effects.

What Is Chemotherapy Used For?

Chemotherapy is used to:

  1. Treat specific cancer.
  2. Control tumour growth when cure is not possible.
  3. Shrink tumours before surgery or radiation therapy.
  4. Relieve symptoms such as pain.
  5. Destroy microscopic cancer cells that may be left behind after the known tumour is removed by surgery. This is called Adjuvant Therapy. Adjuvant therapy is usually given to prevent the possibility of cancer reoccurrence.

How To Prepare For Chemotherapy Treatment

You may be nervous to prepare for chemotherapy but talking to fellow cancer survivors can help.

  1. Take things easy.
  2. Take warm layers of clothing (coats, sweatshirts, scarves and dry socks) in case you get cold.
  3. Take things that can keep you engaged such as novels, phone, iPad or laptops.
  4. Do not try to compare your body to the way it was before the chemotherapy.
  5. Drink enough water always.
  6. When possible, go for a walk every day.
  7. Try getting something to eat. Many patients are recommending Bland diets.
  8. Read the given Chemotherapy handouts. pay attention to the side effects.
  9. Seek acupuncture to assist with pain and nausea alleviation.
  10. Try a variety of things to help with side effects including pickle juice, flaxseed oil, fish oil, ginger ale and tea tree oil.
  11. Keep a chemo journal
  12. Take an album featuring pictures of your loved ones and special locations you have been to. Looking at these pictures will give you motivation.
  13. Confide in the Physicians always. Please ask questions.
  14. Make up an old friends list. Call them or write notes to them while you are having your chemotherapy treatment.
  15. Form a support team to help each other out. Become friends with your fellow chemo patients.
talk with other cancer survivors
talk with other cancer survivors

What To Expect While Receiving Chemotherapy Treatment

Worrying about the possible side effects of chemotherapy is normal. It’s important that you talk to your doctor about your concerns. Know that some patients do not always have side effects. Most patients also report little to no side effects from their medication. The nature of side effects and how severe they might be may depend on how much medication you received.

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Although certain side effects might be anticipated, if any side effects arise, you should still contact your doctor.

Common Side Effects Of Chemo Treatment

 Here are some of the more common side effects caused by chemotherapy:

  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Infection
  • Anaemia (low red blood cell counts)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Appetite changes
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Mouth, tongue, and throat problems such as sores and pain with swallowing
  • Peripheral neuropathy or other nerve problems, such as numbness, tingling, and pain
  • Skin and nail changes such as dry skin and colour change
  • Urine and bladder changes and kidney problems
  • Weight changes
  • Chemo brain, which can affect concentration and focus
  • Mood changes
  • Changes in libido and sexual function
  • Fertility problems

Learn more about these and other problems in Managing Cancer-related Side Effects.

How Long Does Chemotherapy Treatment Last?

How long chemotherapy lasts is defined by a number of variables. These include the form of cancer, the severity of cancer, the kinds of medications prescribed, as well as the predicted medication toxicity and the length of time taken to heal from these toxicities.

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Many medication plans for chemotherapy (including the form and length of the procedure for chemotherapy) are decided by clinical trials that evaluated them and decided which was more effective and well-tolerated by patients.

Chemotherapy treatment is usually offered in cycles. This enables cancer cells to be targeted at their most sensitive moments, which also gives the regular cells of the body time to heal from the injury. Really, there are three issues concerning cycle time, cycle duration, cycle frequency, and how many cycles. Read More.

How Often Is Chemotherapy Treatment?

Each cancer medicine is prescribed on a separate timeline. You can have chemotherapy once a week or for a couple of days, so you can rest for a few days or weeks. The breaks give an opportunity for the medications to do their job. Rest also allows the body room for recovery and you can deal with side effects such as diarrhoea, hair loss or exhaustion. Each dosage collection is called a cycle.

How Long Does Chemotherapy Stay In Your System After Treatment?

Chemotherapy can have long-lasting benefits. It is important in treating tumours but also brings up the problem of how long such medications stay in the bloodstream. During chemotherapy, drugs can be administered in a variety of forms but typical methods include oral and intravenous administrations. Routes of administration affect how long these drugs remain in the body.

Chemotherapy itself persists in the body 2-3 days after receiving treatment. They’re broken down by the kidneys and liver and excreted in the urine, stool, or sweat. Although patients can suffer short-term and long-term side effects. Not all patients will feel all the side effects but at least a handful will suffer few of them.

chemo treatment survivor
chemo treatment survivor
Image credit: Wikimedia

There are a variety of factors that may affect how long it takes for the medications to exit your body system. This could involve the sort of treatment you received, the presence other medications in your body, your age, and how well your liver and kidneys are functioning. Damage to an organ will slow down the rate at which the drugs are removed from your body.

Chemo Detoxification

Detoxification refers to the practice of eliminating “toxins” from the body, either directly or by foods or drugs. Chemo detoxification may be marketed untruthfully and considered unsafe. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a 2015 study found that there was no convincing evidence promoting the usage of “detox” foods for weight loss or removing contaminants from the body.

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Physicians and scientists believe the body already has complex structures in place (gut, liver, lungs, and skin, to name a few) to eliminate contaminants and waste effectively from the body. Eating nutritious meals and consuming lots of fluids helps the body break down and eliminate these toxins from the body.

To establish health-promoting approaches before, during and after chemotherapy treatment, consult your doctor and/or approved nutritionists, dietitians and other health professionals.

Foods To Eat After Chemotherapy Treatment

Follow a healthy and balanced diet after chemo treatment. Eat a range of nutritious foods daily. The American Cancer Society and the American Institute for Cancer Research have provided healthy diet recommendations including foods to enjoy and those to limit after chemotherapy. A good diet can aid in encouraging stable weight and proper eating, as well as healing from cancer.

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Anyone who has experienced cancer should realize they never want cancer again. For about 30 per cent of cancer cases, diet plays a key role. Furthermore, a balanced diet, keeping a healthy weight, and daily exercise of about 30 minutes may reduce around one-third of cancer. Excess weight is the primary preventable source of cancer asides smoking. A good lifestyle will help you rebound from cancer, and also reduce the chance of recurrence.

Is BCG Treatment a Form Of Chemotherapy?

Yes. Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) Immunotherapy is a form of chemotherapy. Immunotherapy utilizes the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin ( BCG) vaccine, which allows the body’s immune response to try and kill cancer cells. It is placed directly into the bladder.

Physicians usually use BCG immunotherapy to manage prostate cancer in stage 0 and stage 1. Key non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer treatments include surgery, BCG (immunotherapy) and intravesical chemotherapy. You may have surgery on your own or a combination of these treatments.

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Chemotherapy Treatment

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is typically managed with either chemotherapy or radiotherapy, but certain patients do not require urgent care. When the initial cancer is very small in a few instances and can be eliminated through a biopsy, no additional care will be required.

In general, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma involves the presence of cancerous lymphocytes in your lymph nodes. But the disease may spread to other parts of your lymphatic system too which comprise the tonsils, adenoids, spleen, lymphatic vessels, thymus, and bone marrow.

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

The chemotherapy treatment for Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is usually with a 4-drug regimen known as CHOP (cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, and prednisone), plus monoclonal antibody rituximab (Rituxan). This protocol, known as R-CHOP, is most commonly performed 3 weeks apart in intervals.

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Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma’s prognosis may be positive but relies on the form of lymphoma, degree of spread (staging), and treatment reaction. A health care professional can speak with the patient regarding the prognosis. The overall survival rate for people with NHL for five years is 71%, while the overall survival rate for 10 years is 60%.

NH Lymphoma may affect the bone marrow to such a degree that fresh blood cells are unable to develop. This can lead to complications like Infections. A shortage of white blood cells (neutropenia) increases your risk of infection.

Chemotherapy Treatment For Breast cancer

Breast cancer chemotherapy requires medications to destroy and eliminate breast cancer cells. These medications are typically given by injection directly into the vein or as a tablet. Besides other therapies, such as surgery, radiation, or hormone therapy, breast cancer chemotherapy is commonly used.

Drugs used to treat early breast cancer include anthracyclines: doxorubicin (Adriamycin) and epirubicin (Ellence) are included in this class of drugs. Taxans: docetaxel (Taxotere) and paclitaxel (Taxol) comprise this class of drugs.

Chemotherapy handles breast cancer very well. It isn’t without side effects, however. Yet, it is needless in certain situations according to medical researchers. The test, which ranks patients by risk, was used for years but was recently validated in a study involving more than 10,000 women.

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The chemotherapy cycle can vary between once a week and once every three weeks. A recuperation phase is accompanied by each therapy session. Usually, once you have breast cancer in the early stages, you should go for chemotherapy treatment for three or six months but the specialist should change the duration or match the circumstances.

How Much Is Chemotherapy Treatment?

It is so expensive to bring a new drug into the drug market , especially a cancer drug. Pharmaceutical firms report far more setbacks than achievements and these risks of research and production are factored into the drug’s prices.

On the whole, the average cost of cancer chemotherapy treatment is estimated to be between $10,000 and $150,000. It varies widely because there are different treatment plan against different cancer types. It also depends on when it was detected and how far it has progressed. In many cases, you will be diagnosed with a regular expense course that includes office visits, laboratory work, and prescription drugs. While chemotherapy is commonly thought to be the most expensive part of treatment, learning just how much cancer medication costs can be shocking.

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Chemotherapy treatment for cancer can be costly. These costs can affect your feelings, health, relationships and finances. Often, there might be unforeseen costs that are not completely covered by your health insurance.

After Chemotherapy Treatment

Recovery from chemotherapy can take up to six months. Chemotherapy is out of your system a few hours after you have taken it, but it can take up to about six months for the side effects to wear out.

Long term effects of chemotherapy include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Difficulty with focused thinking (sometimes called chemo brain).
  • Early menopause.
  • Heart problems.
  • Reduced lung capacity.
  • Kidney and urinary problems.
  • Nerve problems such as numbness and tingling.
  • Bone and joint problems.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Secondary cancers.

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After-effects of surgery include: Scarring at the surgical site, Problems fighting infection, Lymphedema or swelling of arms or legs, Nutritional problems, Cognitive problems such as trouble focusing or memory loss, Changes in sexual function or fertility, Pain that may be chronic or long term, Difficulty with speech or swallowing. Physical changes can also bring emotional aftereffects.

After chemotherapy treatment, you will continue with Maintenance Treatment which can involve surgery, hormone therapy, or behavioural therapy. Maintenance treatment is usually done due to the following reasons: If the cancer is in complete remission after initial treatment, to prevent or delay the return of cancer.

Foods to eat after chemotherapy treatment includes Whole Grains and Starchy Vegetables: oats, quinoa, barley, brown rice, popcorn, corn, potatoes, peas, winter squash, and 100% whole grain bread, pasta, cereal, and crackers. Nutritious Fats: olive oil, canola oil, nut butters (such as peanut butter or almond butter), avocado, nuts, and seeds.

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Certain chemo-drugs can damage your heart’s cells thereby promoting the risk of cardiac issues, such as: heart muscle weakness (cardiomyopathy) heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmia).

Final Thoughts

In addition to communicating with your health care provider, communicating with other cancer survivors might also be useful. Others will likely have been through similar experiences. Sharing information could help you find new ways of dealing with chemotherapy challenges.

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