Chemotherapy is a common treatment utilized for cancer patients, but How is Chemotherapy Used to Treat Cancer? The different chemicals used in chemotherapies attack specific types of cancerous cells and prevent them from growing and dividing. Each year, there are an estimated 650,000 cancer patients who receive chemotherapy from outpatient clinics in the United States. All cells within the body go through the cell cycle, which involves maturing before dividing into two daughter cells. Chemotherapy drugs target cells at different phases throughout the cell cycle.
for cancer patients is an effective treatment option but lacks the ability to differentiate between normal and cancerous cells. This leads to the side effects commonly associated with chemotherapy. Although, over time the side effects will go away as normal cells are able to recover and cancer cells are not. The types of cells that are most likely to be damaged during treatment are:
- Hair follicles
- Blood-forming cells in bone marrow
- Digestive tract
- Reproductive system
The severity of chemotherapy side effects varies greatly depending on the individual, the cancer type, and the specific chemotherapy drug used.
What are the Side Effects of Chemotherapy?
The most common side effects cancer patients experience during treatment with chemotherapy include:
- Easily bruising or bleeding
- Vomiting and nausea
- Sores in the mouth, throat, or tongue
- Painful swallowing
- Weight loss
- Mood changes
- Lack of concentration and focus, known as “chemo brain”
What are the Types of Chemotherapy Used for Cancer?
Chemotherapy drugs can be categorized by the types of cells they attack and how they react with other therapies. Below are the common categories of chemotherapies:
- Alkylating agents: Keeps cells from reproducing by inhibiting the cell’s DNA, most of which are not able to travel to the brain. Alkylating agents can be used for many different cancer types. These drugs can affect the bone marrow and cause an increased risk of leukemia.
- Mitotic inhibitors: Also known as plant alkaloids, these compounds are made from plants. Cells are stopped from dividing and enzymes continue damaging cells by halting the growth of a vital protein for reproduction.
- Topoisomerase inhibitors: Plant alkaloids that target the specific enzyme topoisomerases, which are responsible of separating strands of DNA to ensure reproduction.
- Corticosteroids: Commonly known as steroids, these natural hormones are useful in the treatments of many cancer types and can help prevent side effects from other chemotherapies.
- Anti-tumor antibiotics: Binds with DNA in the cancer cells and make alterations so the cell is unable to grow and multiply.
- Antimetabolites: By replacing normal blocks of DNA and RNA, the cell is unable to make copies of itself.
How is Chemotherapy Used to Treat Cancer?
The method in which the drug is taken is determined by rigorous testing and observation during the four clinical trial phases. Before and during the clinical trial, it is determined which method is most appropriate and safest for specific cancer types. In many cases, the chemotherapy drug will be administered intravenously, through an infusion, directly into a vein. Other ways cancer patients can receive chemotherapy treatments include:
- Orally in pill form
- Disk-shaped wafers placed near the tumor
- Catheter in the abdominal wall