The word chemotherapy is associated with a lot of misconceptions and fears. Most of these ideas are outdated and today side effects from chemotherapy are very few and the majority of our patients do not experience severe symptoms. It is important to understand what it really is and in modern cancer treatments how it is used to help patients. Today chemotherapy is not all about using synthetic chemicals to treat patients but it also includes very specific and targeted treatments for cancers. It also includes medications we use to modify patient’s own immune systems to fight the cancers. We strive to make you understand what drug you will receive and how it will work and what to expect on the day of treatment as well as afterwards. This makes it a team effort with our capable and dedicated staff being available always to help you in the rare occasions when you might experience adverse effects.
Your doctor will initially discuss different treatment options and once a decision is made based on your joint decisions, he/she will formulate a treatment plan which might be the use of a single medications or multiple medications depending on what is the best treatment for your condition. The decision as to what medications are used will depend on not only the efficacy of the medication based initial treatment goals, aiming to benefit each individual patient in the best possible manner.
Some cancers can be treated with a single chemo drug, but often times several drugs are used in a specific order or in specific combinations (called combination chemotherapy). Different drugs that work in different ways can work together to kill more cancer cells. Utilizing many chemotherapy medications can also help lower the chance that the cancer may become resistant to any one chemo drug.
Depending on the condition that is being treated, our doctors coordinate with other specialists and might include different types of treatments such as radiation and surgery to give the best chance for success. Your oncologist will also work with orthopedic surgeons, neurologists, neurosurgeons, physical therapists, pain specialists and palliative care experts to deliver the best possible outcomes for you, before and after cancer treatments.
While radiation targets cells in a specific area, chemotherapy drugs can travel throughout the body to reach cells that might have metastasized to other parts of the body, far from where the cancer originated. Sometimes medications tagged with radiation can also be used to treat cancer with very good results. Immunological treatments can boost your immune systems to fight cancer or directly target cancer cells to help fight the disease. Targeted therapy can target how the cancer grows and spreads and cause it to stop.
Chemotherapy medications come in both pill and fluid form. Very commonly, patients will go to their oncologists’ office to receive infusions– or medications administered by IV therapy injected into a vein. Some infusions are quick, and others can take a few hours.
Chemotherapy is typically given at regular intervals called cycles. A cycle may be a dose of one or multiple drugs followed by several days or weeks without treatment. This time off gives normal cells time to recover from the medication’s side effects. Sometimes, doses may be given a certain number of days consistently in a row, or every other day for several days, followed by a period of rest. Your medical oncologist will fully explain your treatment plan and provide you with a calendar to help you keep track of your appointments.
The purpose of chemotherapy is to stop the growth of cancer cells; however some healthy cells are affected as well. At Austin Cancer Center, we provide each of our patients with an informational binder that provides in-depth details about nutritional support, and treatments for side effects. We fully expect you to rely on our staff and educational resources to aid you during treatment, and we are happy to guide you through every step. Please be sure to read the provided information and use our Patient Support Services Page to learn more about managing side effects.
Some common side effects of chemotherapy include: hair loss, nausea, fatigue, anemia, low white blood counts, which help fight infections, as well as low red blood cell counts which help with clotting.
Information provided by Cancer.org, 2018