Chemotherapy

Definition:
Chemotherapy is a medical treatment that is needed in order to stop cancer cells from growing and its tracks. Chemotherapy is extremely effective in treating cancer. It is even more effective when it is used with other treatments like radiotherapy. It is also sometimes needed to relief the symptoms, and it is design to give a longer life by causing the disease to go into remission-the stage in which there are no active symptoms.  Chemotherapy works differently than surgery or radiotherapy – two other treatments designed to fight against the cancer as well. Chemotherapy drugs travel throughout the whole body. This is important because it allows the durgs to reach part of the body where the cancer cells may have spread out. In combination with surgery means that fewer surgical procedures need to be done. Follow-up surgery can often be avoided if chemotherapy is used.

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On the other hand, radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, is the use of high energy rays to treat such disease. Is it very important to know that radiation causes damage to cancer cells, so they stop growing. With each treatment, more of the cells die and the tumor shrinks. The dead cells break down and are carried away by the blood, eventually passing out of the body. Normal cells that are also exposed to the radiation process start to repair themselves afterwards, and the process lasts just a few hours. You might be concerned that radiation hurts, but is actually quite painless. Also, in case you are wondering, the radiation gets into your body and then passes out -it does not cause you to become radioactive.

To understand how chemotherapy works, it is helpful to know some basics about the cells of the body. Everything in your body is made up of cells. A group of cells is called tissue and tissues make up all the organs, the major structures of your body. Tissue stays healthy because cells grow and reproduce, new cells replace the ones that are damaged because of injury. This means that a combination of drugs may be used to attack cancer cells so that each drug can attack the cells in a different phase.

Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells in the body grow and multiply at a very high rate. There are more than 100 specific types of cancer cells. Cancer also may involve the spread of abnormal cells around the body. Normal cells in our body grow, divide, and die in a way that maintains health and does not damage the body. A majority for the cancer cases are due to age issues because of the fact that in adulthood your cells divide only to replace worn-out or dying cells, or in other cases, to repair injuries. Cells make up all living tissue and stronger throughout your childhood. But cancer cells continue to grow and divide, even though they are no serving in any of the vital functions, and can spread to other parts in the body. These cells clump together and form tumors (lumps) that may destroy normal tissue. If cells break off from a tumor, they can travel  throughout the blood stream or the lymphatic system. When they settle in and grow; eventually, forming other tumors. When a tumor spreads out to a new place, it is called metastasis. Even when cancer spreads, it’s called by the name of the body where it originally started and developed. Leukemia, a type of cancer growing, does not usually form a tumor, it is an exception to the rule. The cancer cells get into the blood and the organs that make blood bone narrow, then they circulate through other tissues, where they eventually develop and grow.

Chemotherapy damages cancer cells, but it also can damage normal cells. Damage to these cells is what causes the side effects of chemotherapy treatment. For instance normal cells that divide quickly, such as blood cells and the cells of hair follicles, are more likely to be damaged by chemotherapy medications. In other words, in healthy cells the damage does not last, and many only happen on the days you are actually taking the drugs. Chemotherapy is usually given is several cycles. Depending on the drug and combination, it may last to a few hours, days, or weeks.

How Chemotherapy Is Given
Just as other medicines can be taken in various forms, there are several ways to get chemotherapy. In most cases, it’s given intravenously into a vein, also referred to as an IV. An IV is a tiny tube inserted into a vein through the skin, usually in the arm. The IV is attached to a bag that holds the medicine. The chemo medicine flows from the bag into the vein, which puts the medicine into the bloodstream. Once the medicine is in the blood, it can travel through the body and attack cancer cells.

Sometimes, a permanent IV called a catheter is placed under the skin into a larger blood vessel of the upper chest. That way, a child can get chemotherapy and other medicines through the catheter without having to always use a vein in the arm. The catheter remains under the skin until all the cancer treatment is completed. It can also be used to obtain blood samples and for other treatments, such as blood transfusions, without repeated needle sticks.

Chemo also can be:

•taken as a pill, capsule, or liquid that is swallowed
•given by injection into a muscle or the skin
•injected into spinal fluid through a needle inserted into a fluid-filled space in the lower spine (below the spinal cord)

Chemotherapy is sometimes used along with other cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy, surgery, or biological therapy (the use of substances to boost the body’s immune system while fighting cancer).

Lots of kids and teens receive combination therapy, which is the use of two or more cancer-fighting drugs. In many cases, combination therapy lessens the chance that a child’s cancer will become resistant to one type of drug — and improves the chances that the cancer will be cured.

When and Where Chemotherapy Is Given
Depending on the method used to administer chemotherapy, it may be given at a hospital, cancer treatment center, doctor’s office, or at home. Many kids receive chemotherapy on an outpatient basis at a clinic or hospital. Others may need to be hospitalized to monitor or treat side effects.

Kids may receive chemotherapy every day, every week, or every month. Doctors sometimes use the term “cycles” to describe a child’s chemotherapy because the treatment periods are interspersed with periods of rest so the child can recover and regain strength.

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Dosage :
Dosage of chemotherapy can be difficult: If the dose is too low, it will be ineffective against the tumor, whereas, at excessive doses, the toxicity (side effects, neutropenia) will be intolerable to the patient. This has led to the formation of detailed “dosing schemes” in most hospitals, which give guidance on the correct dose and adjustment in case of toxicity. In immunotherapy, they are in principle used in smaller dosages than in the treatment of malignant diseases.

In most cases, the dose is adjusted for the patient’s body surface area, a measure that correlates with blood volume. The BSA is usually calculated with a mathematical formula or a nomogram, using a patient’s weight and height, rather than by direct measurement.

Side Effects:
Although chemo often effectively damages or eliminates cancer cells, it also can damage normal, healthy cells. And this can lead to some uncomfortable side effects.

The good news is that most side effects are temporary — as the body’s normal cells recover, the side effects gradually go away.

Cancer treatment is multifaceted — that is, patients receive a lot of care (i.e., fluid and nutrition support, transfusion support, physical therapy, and medicines) to help them tolerate the treatments and treat or prevent side effects such as nausea and vomiting.

It’s difficult to pinpoint which side effects a  patient might experience, how long they’ll last, and when they’ll end.

The common side effects are:
1.Fatigue
2.Discomfort and Pain
3.Skin Damage or Changes
4.Hair Loss and Scalp Sensitivity
5.Mouth, Gum, and Throat Sores
6.Gastrointestinal Problems

Other side effects are:
•Anemia
•Blood Clotting
•Increased Risk of Infection

Chemo may cause a reduction in white blood cells, which are part of the immune system and help the body to fight infection. Therefore,  the patient  is more vulnerable to developing infections during and after chemo.

•Long-Term Side Effects
Chemotherapy can cause long-term side effects (sometimes called late effects), depending on the type and dose of chemotherapy and whether it was combined with radiation. These effects may involve any organ, including the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, liver, thyroid gland, and reproductive organs. Some types of chemotherapy drugs may also increase the risk of cancer later in life. Receiving chemo during childhood also may place some kids at risk for delayed growth and cognitive development, depending on the child’s age, the type of drug used, the dosage, and whether chemotherapy was used in addition to radiation therapy.

Newer anticancer drugs act directly against abnormal proteins in cancer cells; this is termed targeted therapy and is technically not chemotherapy.

Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.This is purely for educational purpose.

Resources:
http://englendd.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/chemotherapy/
http://kidshealth.org/parent/system/ill/chemotherapy.html#
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemotherapy

http://medicineworld.org/cancer/lead/11-2008/concurrent-chemotherapy-in-lung-cancer.html

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