Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to kill cancerous cells in the body. It works by targeting cancer cells that multiply quickly, thereby preventing them from dividing and growing within the body. Doctors will generally recommend chemotherapy after looking at the type and stage of cancer you have.
Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment that focuses on treating the system as a whole and not just a part of the system. Unlike radiotherapy or surgery that is targeted at a specific part of the body, chemotherapy travels through the blood and can thus reach cancerous cells throughout the body.
Your doctor can recommend chemotherapy for several reasons, the primary of which will be to either shrink before surgery or radiotherapy or stop them from forming after surgery or radiotherapy. It can be given as an independent treatment also, if it works well against your cancer e.g. in blood cancer. In certain cases, Chemotherapy is used to treat cancer that has spread from where it originally started.
Since the drugs used in chemotherapy target fast-growing cells within the body, they can also attack healthy cells such as blood-forming cells in the bone marrow, hair follicles and cells in the mouth, digestive tract, and reproductive system. They can also damage cells of your liver, kidney, lungs, nervous system and bladder.
These side effects impact different people differently. Factors such as your overall fitness level, your age, and the stage of your cancer can determine the severity of the side effects. Your doctor will most likely prescribe medication to prevent certain side effects.
Chemotherapy drugs can sometimes have severe short term and long term side effects, and risks. Your doctor will require you to sign a consent form that spells out in detail these side effects and risks before beginning treatment. It is very important that you understand the expected outcome, benefits, risks, and side effects of your chemotherapy treatment before you sign this form.
We recommend you ask your doctor the following questions to understand how chemotherapy is likely to help you.
Here is a list of questions, for three stages of the treatment - the Fundamentals, Side Effects and During-After the treatment stage.
Fundamentals about your treatment
Understanding the side-effects
During and After treatment
Answers to the above questions will help you make an informed decision about whether you should proceed or continue with chemotherapy. It is a good idea to take notes during your discussion with the doctor. With the permission of your doctor, you may even record the conversation to store important details.
Always ask questions if you don’t understand a certain point. Remember nothing is too small or trivial as your health is at stake. Taking a friend or family member along is always advisable as they can help record important details and provide the right emotional support.