According to international estimates, cancer takes the lives of 10 million people every year. It is an extremely difficult disease to manage that carries high rates of mortality and morbidity.
In this article, we will discuss one of the major therapeutic modalities that we use to treat cancer, chemotherapy.
Before we talk about chemo, we need to understand what a cancerous cell is so that chemotherapy makes sense.
Table Of Contents
What is a cancer cell?
Most of the cells of our bodies are constantly multiplying, replicating, and dying. Each time a cell dies and another cell is generated, there is a risk of a genetic mutation altering the DNA of the new cell.
Usually, our cellular machinery is competent in dealing with these mutations.
However, and in some cases, the mutated cell may go unnoticed, and it starts to grow.
Why is that a problem?
Well, the mutated cell does not grow in a regulated fashion like all the other cells. It just goes haywire! These cells start dividing like crazy without any suppressing mechanism in their ways.
This process is so powerful that scientists refer to it as replicative immortality. In other words, the cells are able to divide uncontrollably and indefinitely.
In short, a cancer cell is an abnormally mutated cell that grows at an incredible rate without any regulation.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy involves the use of aggressive chemicals to destroy rapidly growing cells in the body.
It is this property that’s responsible for killing the cancer cells, as well as causing all those side effects associated with chemo.
Unfortunately, chemotherapy is not targeted to kill the cancer cells uniquely.
It is highly unspecific, so it kills any cell that regenerates in a short period of time, which include normal cells, such as hair follicle, intestinal cells, and immune cells.
Chemotherapy is usually combined with surgery and radiation therapy to clear out cancer from the body. In some cases, chemois the only viable treatment of cancer.
For example, if the patient is diagnosed with cancer and evaluation tests show that it has already spread throughout the body.
Who needs chemotherapy?
There are several classifications and scores used to determine whether a patient is eligible to receive chemotherapy or not.
Every cancer is classified, using the TNM staging system, which stands for:
- T=Tumor size
- N=Nodes (lymph nodes)
- M=Metastasis (tumor spread)
When the patient gets their TNM staging, they will discuss the treatment plan with their oncologist to choose which treatment options can be opted for.
Nevertheless, here are some reasons to start chemotherapy:
- Decrease the number of cancer cells in the body
- Lower the chances of cancer spread
- Shrink the tumor in size
- Reduce the severity of symptoms
- Clear out the cancer cells to prepare the patient for surgery
- Make sure no cancer cells are left after the surgery
One final indication for chemo in the palliative treatment of cancer in patients with late-stage tumors.
How effective is chemotherapy?
The answer to this question is not straight forward. Every cancer responds differently to chemotherapy, and you may have to try multiple treatment protocols to find the best regiment for you.
The staging of cancer also plays a role in determining the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
Additionally, some cancers develop resistance against those pharmacological drugs, which render them ineffective. Hence, the need to try newer drugs.
Here is an article that discusses in great detail the survival rates of each cancer treated with chemo.
Chemotherapy side effects
Due to the low specificity of chemotherapy, it targets any cell in the body that rapidly regenerates.
- Hair follicles
- Skin cells
- Blood cells
- Intestinal cells
The destruction of all these cells leads to several consequences, including:
- Easy bruising
This is due to the low levels of platelets and coagulation proteins, which are responsible for hemostasis.
- Digestive symptoms
Patients treated with chemotherapy often present with nausea, vomiting, constipation, and/or diarrhea.
chemo exposes the body to aggressive chemicals that damage many functions as collateral damage. Add this to cancer, and you have yourself the ultimate recipe for extreme fatigue.
- Hair loss
Because of the relatively fast turn-over of hair follicles, chemotherapy may suppress their ability to regenerate, leading to hair loss.
This is mainly due to the reduced number of white blood cells (WBC) that fight off infections.
Red blood cells (RBC) have a short half-life, thus getting affected by chemotherapy.
Other side effects of chemo include:
- Memory problems
- Concentration problems
- Skin changes
- Nail changes
- Sexual changes
- Fertility changes
As you can see, chemotherapy can cause some serious side effects, which can make the patient feels way worse than he/she initially felt.
Unfortunately, this is where many opportunistic scammers try to butt in! By tricking patients into trying this new, magical, all-natural, herbal drug, scammers make hundreds of thousands of dollars by trading with the suffering of these patients.
The problem is, after quitting chemotherapy and trying the new herbal medication, patients start to feel better.
Why? Simply because chemo is aggressive and makes patients feel way worse than they would have felt if they didn’t get any treatment.
Therefore, the scammers will not only be stealing the money of desperate patients, but they’ll also be steering them away from the only effective treatment of this debilitating disease.
Chemotherapy is a very effective treatment in destroying cancer cells and limiting their metastasis. It is the only viable treatment in many scenarios.
However, serious side effects usually accompany this treatment, which begs the question of whether it is always the best option.
Answering this question is not up to me. Discussing every option and balancing the pros/cons of each therapy with your oncologist is the best plan possible.
If you have tried chemotherapy before, feel free to share your experience with us in the comment section below.