What is Chemotherapy: An Extensive Guide
When a family member or friend is put through chemotherapy, there is a large amount of panic that stricken the people around that person. Understandably so, though it can be seen as something that takes away so much from the person going through chemotherapy, rather than seeing it as a method of curing. This distinction will be changed, hopefully through this article on what is chemotherapy, what kind of treatments are used during the process, a bit of history on what is chemotherapy, and some more in-depth look on the many vast, and different perspectives of chemotherapy itself below.
What is chemotherapy?
Most of us know about chemotherapy but do we actually know what is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a mesh of different types of drugs that center around stopping cancer cells from dividing and growing. It does this by limiting the food source that the cancer cells take away from the body (enzymes/hormones) and ends up starving it, which leads to the cancer-cell destroying itself gradually (apoptosis). Even though this might put an end to the spreading of the cancer cells, it could at one point resurface, since all of the cancer cells were not eradicated, however, this is dependent on the severity of cancer spreading and different for each person going through chemotherapy.
“Don’t give up, the beginning is always the hardest” – Unknown author
If there is no possibility of a cure, which in most cases is seen even before the person goes through chemotherapy, then chemo will still be used to try, and limit the expandability of the cancer cells, in turn making the person’s life a bit easier, and be able to live for at least a longer amount of time. This process is painful, and grueling for the person to go through, which the period of time of going through these treatments can last from a day, or a couple of weeks, depending on the schedule that the doctor makes for the person.
What is chemotherapy: History
At first, this kind of therapy was not used to treat cancer in any way, and the tools that the therapy uses now were used in nitrogen mustard gas which was used as a weapon during World War II. Researchers afterward saw that the gas had reduced white cell counts within the hosts that inhaled the gas, and thought that this could possibly be used to eliminate viruses such as cancer within the body. The researchers tested this on lab rats and saw that the tumors in the rats were significantly reduced with this chemical, which they created a less harmful form of it, and began working on patients with cancer in which the first one being treated with this gas had nonhudgkin’s lymphoma. They saw that the mass of the tumor was reduced significantly, and then began the craze for this ‘cure’ of cancer after their research was publicized in 1946.
Also there were many researchers for forty years prior to this publication, that were experimenting with different types of drugs to cure cancer, even though they failed, their basis led to the five famous groups building a better foundation for their studies, and would not have been possible without a large amount of research that was put into this beforehand.
What is chemotherapy: Effects
For years, the effects of chemotherapy were not a hot topic, since it was able to eradicate something that most people felt was not eradicable, but within the scientific community, there was a growing disconcert for the effectiveness of chemotherapy, since there was still a large a number of people going into remission, which is still a factor today, though the number is significantly lowered.
There are still side effects of chemotherapy, though much lower than they were back then, that is still present in most cases.
- Hair follicles become damaged
- The reproductive system becomes slightly impaired
- Chemo brain – focus, and concentration are limited
- Skin and nails becoming withered
- Mood swings, and many more symptoms, which a full list is provided in the link above.
There can be a couple of neurological effects that are still not fully known, since it would require testing each individual person that goes through chemotherapy, and compiling a large amount of data, to get a full understanding of what the neurologically effects specifically are, but the whole chemotherapy process can lead to a more depressive outlook at life, even after the therapy is done. What is chemotherapy? Well, there are many toxins that are pumped into the body in which in their own way can limit certain cognitive functions, and change a person’s personality entirely, which has been seen in certain cases. There is also a possibility of their being high blood pressure, and heart diseases that can affect the person long-term, but yet these are not seen across the board for most cases, and should be looked at with these effects coming more so from the recovery process most likely going awry.
What is chemotherapy: types of cancers treated
Pancreatic cancer: chemo can be used before surgery in order to make the process simpler and at times even doable, or after surgery to ensure that the cancer cells are eliminated since the tumor is what is being taken out, not the individual cells that could be left behind.
Breast cancer: used before and after surgery, just as pancreatic cancer does, however, this is less likely to be seen, or recommended.
Testicular cancer: tends to be seen around stage 1, and up, since the cancer is most likely not spreading, but if it does, then chemo is an option that people can choose.
Hodgkin Lymphoma: seen across the stages, since it is cancer that begins within the white blood cells, and continues to reproduce rapidly, which the lymphocytes themselves are a part of the body’s immune system, but this form of cancer is highly treatable, even in the later stages.
What is chemotherapy vs other drugs
The ways that chemotherapy is given, ranges from many different options, and mainly depends on the type of cancer that is being treated. Here are some of the ways that chemotherapy is used.
- Injection: which the shot is given on a certain part of the body in order to target the specific area.
- Intravenous: insert into the vein (IV, most common one)
- Oral: pills, or capsules.
- Topical: a cream that is rubbed on the skin.
- Intra-arterial: injected in the artery.
- Pumps: control the tempo of the chemo going into the body, and can be seen externally, or internally.
What is chemotherapy: recovery process
The recovery time is based upon so many other factors that have been aforementioned, which revolve around the longevity of the treatment. If the treatment is prolonged, then the recovery period can be lengthened, but for the most part, the immune system takes about a month to fully recover from the treatments that the body went through. Even at a month’s period of time though, it can be minor improvements here, and there, and the side effects can last for about six months after the therapy is completed.
During this time period, any person that is recovering would be advised to take certain medicines that can help with the detrimental effects that come from the side effects and to limit the amount of stress. By ensuring a nutritional diet, and even exercising would be advised, since these would help build up the immune system that was weakened during what is chemotherapy.
What is chemotherapy: the probability of relapse
For the most part, there is a high survivability rate, when looking at it from a five-year span it ranges to around 5%, at least to when cancer has spread to other portions of the body, which is seen from an outlook that the person was diagnosed late into their stages, so it provides a lot of hope for people that are diagnosed earlier, or even at the same stage. Going into remission has a lot of implications since it can mean that the person is taking a break from the treatment in order to allow the body to rest, and see if the treatments are working. When there are no signs of cancer growth, then the person will be said to be in complete remission, since any possible signs of cancer are gone. This is the closest that it comes to saying that the person is completely cured of cancer, but still holds a lot of hope for the person themselves to never have to go through chemotherapy again.
“Cancer is only going to be a chapter in your life, not the whole story.” – Joe Wasser
The probability of going through chemotherapy multiple times in a session is likely seen, since cancer survive multiple 1 week periods of chemotherapy, but the probability of going through it after years of remission is unlikely, and the hope is placed on the person to maintain a healthy lifestyle entirely for the likelihood of cancer coming back is very low.
What is chemotherapy: studies and perspectives
During the early 90s, and heading into the 2000s, there was a lot of clinical research performed on people that recovered from cancer and went through chemotherapy. Much of this research showed that there was a high amount of symptoms or side effects that the person would go through the chemotherapy, but as well as seeing the effects last longer than even the determined recovery period. These effects would continue for years, and cognitively impair certain people to a large extent, which is a study by Michelle Janelsins showed how hormonal treatments can limit the severity of the cognitive impairments that come throughout the treatment, and even make sure these effects do no last after the chemotherapy, yet this is still being tested on.
Many people that go through chemotherapy see a drop in cognitive skill, which was seen in Janelsins study, and may be due to the fact that the person learning about the cancer, on its own started to have negative impacts on the person’s mindset. Feeling like the person will not be able to do the same things that they were once able to do can be a reason, and a loss of hope can also be a factor, since their life as they knew it is completely going to change. This is why a positive mindset, and people surrounding the person going through cancer is very much needed in order to alleviate some of these secondary effects.
The primary view that should be taken away with chemotherapy, is that there will be a lot of side effects that can impact the person, and even worsen them during the chemotherapy, and a time afterwards, but the chances for this occurring depend on many factors. The level of professionalism during the chemotherapy matters very much so, since there was a period of time after chemotherapy had been administered that the doctors were not careful, or observant enough to see that the patients were not able to handle the chemotherapy, which has been mainly resolved today, but there are still a couple of practices that might not take it as serious.
The amount of care that is given to the person, and finding ways to alleviate secondary effects during, and after the treatment are very important, since these secondary effects can hamper the positive outlook on going through the chemotherapy in order to be rid of the cancer, and the persons own self-view. There should be an understanding that the process is going to be tough, and even though it may seem unfair to even be in the predicament of having cancer, there are many people that will be there to support whenever the persons feels like the time for grieving has to end.
To feel down about something like this is completely normal, and even though this is not a normal thing for people to go through, there will always be someone there to help.
Friends, family, strangers and doctors should be seen as a support system that is truly needed in order to pull out of something as debilitating as cancer, and to pull out of the self-made hole that people put themselves into when they go through something like this.
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Janelsins, M. C., Kohli, S., Mohile, S. G., Usuki, K., Ahles, T. A., & Morrow, G. R. (2011). An Update on Cancer- and Chemotherapy-Related Cognitive Dysfunction: Current Status. Seminars in Oncology,38(3), 431-438. doi:10.1053/j.2011.03.014
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Society, A. C. (2018, May 1). Treating Classic Hodgkin Lymphoma, by Stage.
Staff, M. C. (2018, February 21). Cancer survival statistics: What they can and can’t do.
Society, A. C. (2016, February 11). Chemotherapy Side Effects.
Douglas is a writer that focuses on all spectrum’s of the psychology field. His interest grew for the neuroscience field the more he invested time into it, and hopes to get his reader’s to feel the same way. Douglas is always available to converse on intriguing topics, and personal matters in order to inform, and help to the best of his abilities.