According to international estimates, cancer takes the lives of 10 million people every year. It is a challenging disease that carries high mortality and morbidity rates.
This article will discuss one of the primary therapeutic modalities to treat cancer, chemotherapy. However, before we talk about chemo, we need to understand what a cancerous cell is so that chemotherapy makes sense.
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, the mutated cell may go unnoticed in some cases, and it starts to grow.
Why is that a problem?
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 way.
This process is so robust that scientists refer to it as replicative immortality. In other words, the cells can 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 using 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 cancer cells uniquely.
It is highly unspecific, so it kills any cell-regenerating quickly, including normal cells, such as hair follicles, intestinal cells, and immune cells.
Chemotherapy is usually combined with surgery and radiation therapy to remove cancer from the body. In some cases, chamois is the only viable treatment for cancer.
For example, if the patient is diagnosed with cancer, evaluation tests show that it has already spread throughout the body.
In this case, we cannot perform Tumor Removal Surgery since the cancer is not located in one area, and radiation therapy is impossible since we cannot bombard the entire body with X-rays.
Who needs chemotherapy?
Several classifications and scores are used to determine whether a patient is eligible for chemotherapy.
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 the treatment options.
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 palliative cancer treatment in patients with late-stage tumors.
How effective is chemotherapy?
The answer to this question is not straightforward. Every cancer responds differently to chemotherapy, and you may have to try multiple treatment protocols to find the best regimen for you.
Cancer staging also plays a role in determining the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
Additionally, some cancers develop resistance against those pharmacological drugs, which renders them ineffective. Hence, the need to try newer drugs.
An article discusses 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 responsible for hemostasis.
- Digestive symptoms
Patients treated with chemotherapy often present with nausea, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea.
chemo exposes the body to aggressive chemicals that damage many functions as collateral damage. Add this to cancer, and you have the ultimate recipe for extreme fatigue.
- Hair loss
Because of the relatively fast turnover of hair follicles, chemotherapy may suppress their regenerating ability, 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 severe side effects, making the patient feel way worse than they 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.
After quitting chemotherapy and trying the new herbal medication, the problem is that patients start to feel better.
Why? Chemo is aggressive and makes patients feel way worse than they would have felt if they didn’t get any treatment.
Therefore, scammers will not only steal the money of desperate patients but also steer them away from the only effective treatment for this debilitating disease.
Chemotherapy is an effective treatment for 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 whether it is always the best option.
Answering this question is not up to me. However, the best plan is to discuss every option and balance the pros/cons of each therapy with your oncologist.
Please share your experience if you have tried chemotherapy in the comment section below.
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