Is the use of anticancer drugs to treat cancer. Unlike surgery and radiotherapy which are local treatment, chemotherapy aims at treating systemic disease. This means chemotherapy drugs can kill cancer cell that have spread (metastasized) to other organs in the body apart from the primary site.
Different chemotherapy drugs act differently to bring about cell killing. Therefore, there are different groups of chemotherapy drugs according to the way they cause cancer cells death(mechanism of action).In this way therefore, a single chemotherapy drug can be used but most of the time, different chemotherapy drugs are combined together in order to maximize cancer cell killing. The cancer specialist (Oncologist) will tell you the combination of chemotherapy you will use according to the type of cancer, age, general condition of the patient, other disease that patient has(kidney or liver diseases) or the patient had received chemotherapy drugs previously.
Chemotherapy is given in ‘cycles’, according to the type of cancer. This can be every after one, two, three or four weeks. It is normally given for a certain number of cycles according to the type of cancer and aim (intent) of treatment.
Different chemotherapy drugs have different side effects. The oncologists will explain to you, the dose, and schedule of your chemotherapy drugs. He will also explain to you the specific side effects and ways to control them according to the type of chemotherapy drugs that you are given. Among the common side effects of chemotherapy drugs are nausea, vomiting, bone marrow suppression, loss of hair, skin and nails darkening.
Some drugs are given before chemotherapy administration to control nausea and vomiting (pre-chemo medication). Loss of hair, skin and nail darkening usually resolve after completing chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy can be given alone or in combination with surgery, radiotherapy or both depends on stage and type of cancer. When chemotherapy is given before surgery or radiotherapy it is termed Neoadjuvant chemotherapy and when it is given after surgery or radiotherapy it is named Adjuvant chemotherapy and when given together with radiotherapy it is named concomitant chemotherapy.
Goals of Chemotherapy treatment
According to the stage, type of cancer as well as other reasons; chemotherapy drugs can be given for one of the following goals;
Cure; when a patient is diagnosed with early stages, chemotherapy can be given for curative intent.
Palliation; when cancer is at advanced stage or has spread to distant organs, it is very difficult to cure. In this situation, chemotherapy is used for palliative intent. This means to improve quality of life to that particular patient, for example to shrink the tumor and relief pain or obstruction in the digestive system.
Surgery and radiotherapy can also be used for palliative intent in this situation.