More than half of the people who are diagnosed with cancer each year will receive chemotherapy. Treating cancer with chemotherapy reverses the spread of the disease by killing cancer cells or reducing the severity of its symptoms.
How Does Chemotherapy Work?
Doctors have over 100 different drugs available to them when treating cancer patients with chemotherapy. Traditionally, medical professionals administered chemotherapy via injection or intravenous infusion. However, recent medical advances have developed chemotherapy drugs that patients can manage through pills or liquids.
There are many ways to use chemotherapy in cancer treatment. The most popular method is to create drugs that attack the DNA in cells so they self-destruct. For example, methotrexate treats breast, head, neck, and some blood cancers. It’s effective because it blocks a key enzyme that is a building block for DNA.
Other chemotherapy drugs work by binding themselves to DNA to lock the double helix, preventing it from unwinding and creating new copies.
What Can Chemotherapy Do?
Doctors use chemotherapy to treat cancer patients, but the expected outcome depends on the type of cancer and its progress. The medical industry uses chemotherapy to create a variety of outcomes.
In some patients, chemotherapy can destroy enough cancer cells that they are no longer detectable. However, this is no guarantee that cancer will not grow back at some point.
In cases where there is no chance of eradicating cancer, chemotherapy helps control its spread to other areas of the body and slow the growth of the existing cancer cells. Sometimes, doctors will use chemotherapy treatments to target specific tumors that may be causing pain.
The goal is to shrink the tumors so the patient has some level of comfort. However, in many of these cases, the tumors will persist.
How Do Doctors Use Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy can treat cancer by itself, but it’s usually in conjunction with other treatments; including Biological therapy is when medical professionals inject living material such as vaccines, antibodies, or bacteria directly into the cancer cells to kill them.
Radiation therapy delivers radioactive particles to the cancer cells. In many treatments, the physicians will use a machine to target specific areas outside the body. Other ways of irradiating the cancer cells involve putting the radioactive material inside the body.
Surgery attempts to remove as much of the cancerous material as possible physically. In these cases, chemotherapy shrinks the tumorous cells down to a size that makes the operation possible (neoadjuvant chemotherapy). Visit our article about chemotherapy side effects.
How to Know if Chemotherapy is Working?
Oncologists will monitor your progress and periodically check the size of your tumor using a variety of tests, including blood tests and X-rays. If your tumor doesn’t respond, your oncologist will consider a different treatment or a combination.
Medical researchers have made significant advances in many different cancer treatments to provide doctors with more options. For example, there are now options in targeted therapies, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy.
Unlike chemotherapy, which can affect even healthy cells, newer treatments target cancer cells while leaving healthy ones alone.
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