Understanding chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients
By: Jasmine Marfatia
Published On: October 18, 2018
Here's all you need to know about chemotherapy treatment
Upon hearing the word ‘chemotherapy’, most of us are inherently reminded of one of the most horrifying diseases, that, scarily enough affects over 2.5 million people in India - cancer.
But unless you’ve had a family member or a loved one actually go through cancer and take chemotherapy, it’s hard to understand the severe physical, emotional, and financial implications that come with it.
Through this article we hope to shed some light on what is chemotherapy treatment, and what to expect if you or a loved one is battling cancer and has been advised chemotherapy.
What is chemotherapy treatment
To put it simply, chemotherapy is an aggressive form of cancer treatment that uses anticancer drugs and medications to fight cancer. Cancer is caused when affected or cancerous cells start to multiply rapidly through cell division, causing the disease to spread quickly through the entire body.
Chemotherapy is one of the most common treatment methods to treat cancer by killing the cells, shrinking the tumor, or relieving symptoms. As the American Cancer Society explains on their website, chemotherapy is meant to do one of three things:
Cure: With reference to curing cancer, chemotherapy drugs are given to a patient to kill the cancer causing cells or attack a tumor with the aim to destroy it completely.
Control: When speaking of using chemotherapy to control cancer it means using medication to prevent the cancerous cells from spreading and reaching other organs or parts of the body.
Palliation: In advanced stage cancer cases that may be beyond control, chemotherapy may even be used simply to reduce symptoms of cancer such as pain, and help the sufferer feel healthier to improve the quality of life.
How is chemotherapy given?
Certain factors will be taken into consideration by your oncologist, before determining the details of duration of chemotherapy treatment, the type of drug, the method of administering it, and the dosage. The factors to be considered are:
Stage of cancer
Size of the tumor
Speed at which the cancer is spreading
Overall health and immunity of the patient
Based on the above factors and other medical data, the oncologist will determine the process by which chemotherapy will be given to the patient. There are four ways to do this:
Orally: In this case the patient is given one or a combination of medications and drugs to be taken through the mouth, usually in the form of a tablet or liquid. Depending on the doctor’s advice, they may be given the medication either at home or in a hospital.
Intravenously: With the help of a needle, the drug is injected directly into the vein by a medical professional at a clinic or hospital.
Injection: The chemical drug is injected into the patient’s arm, thigh, or elsewhere, just like a regular injection.
Topically: Certain chemotherapy medication may even be in the form of a liquid or cream that is applied directly to the skin.
Direct placement: The drug is given through a lumbar puncture or a device placed under the scalp.
Side effects of chemotherapy treatment
You may have heard that cancer patients tend to lose their hair in the duration of cancer treatment. While that is true, there are several other side affects that patients may experience after undergoing cycles of chemotherapy.
Hair loss or hair alopecia is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy. Within a couple sessions, the patient may experience extreme hair thinning and hair fall.
However, this is a temporary effect. Once the chemotherapy drugs are stopped and the patient is healthy again, the hair may begin to regrow. However, for many suffering from cancer, watching their hair fall out dramatically can be quite traumatic.
Weakened immune system
Unlike targeted therapy and radiation, chemotherapy affects the entire body. The chemical drugs that are meant to kill cancerous cells also tend to destroy healthy cells, leading to a compromised immune system. Overall the patient may see side effects such as anemia, low WBCs, and low platelet count.
Fatigue and weakness
As mentioned above, chem drugs may cause anemia or low red blood cells count, which in turn can make the patient feel tired and exhausted with even the slightest physical activity. This is why patients are advised to get sufficient rest during chemo treatment.
Cancer patients undergoing therapy quite often experience loss of appetite due to a compromised metabolism, and consequent weight loss. Nevertheless, following a special healthy diet is necessary for the recovery process.
Nausea and vomiting
Due to the aggressive effects of some drugs that may even damage the lining of the stomach, patients tend to feel nauseous and may even get diarrhea.
Preparing for chemotherapy
Cancer treatments can be considered very serious treatments that require you to pre plan and prepare for everything that comes with getting chemotherapy. Moreover, chances are that patients would be asked to undergo chemo along with other treatments such as radiation, immunotherapy, or surgery.
Most importantly, it’s crucial for the patient and the family to develop a trusting relationship with the oncologist and team of other doctors. They are the people who can guide you through every step of the way and prepare you for any potential problems that may occur before, during, or after the course of treatment.
Preparing for chemotherapy treatment must be approached in an overall sense that covers the physical, emotional, and financial implications of it.
Go through a series of medical tests
Your team of doctors will ensure they get a full medical history, conduct blood tests, and other diagnostic procedures to ensure your body is healthy enough to handle the chemotherapy medications.
For instance, any liver complications may lead to your doctors delaying chemo. You may also have to visit a dentist and a hair specialist because the hair and teeth may be affected by the medication as well.
Plan for special dietary needs
As we’ve already discussed, the side effects of chemo include gut and intestinal issues, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and a weakened immune system. Seeking help from a nutrition consultant regarding what you should and should not eat may be helpful.
They will be able to guide you on what foods to eat, avoid , and what foods can aid in the recovery process, as well as to keep your energy levels up.
Make necessary work arrangements
During the duration of chemotherapy treatment, the patient may want to take some time off work. Most patients are advised to take complete rest and avoid any mental or physical strain.
However, work mostly depends upon the type of job you have. If it is not very strenuous and mentally taxing, then it is alright to continue working. Some may even find that work helps keep their mind of the health problems. You may also request your employers to adjust your schedule and allow flexible timings during your treatment.
Join a support group
There are several cancer communities, associations, and support groups that bring victims and survivors together to give them a space to share stories and experiences. Such groups give people the strength and courage to fight the disease.
One may even consult a therapist or counselor to address any fears about the disease, the treatment, or its side effects.
Prepare for the side effects
Your team of medical professionals will be able to prepare you to face the side effects of treatment, as well as help you find ways to manage them. Your caregivers must be prepared for any problems that may arise as well.
Cost of chemotherapy treatment
Make financial arrangements
The cost of chemotherapy treatment for cancer may vary from case to case depending on the severity, stage, type and the prognosis for treatment. Even a few cycles of chemo treatment along with medical test and doctors fees, may run into several lakhs.
Moreover, one must also prepare for other health complications, surgeries, or relapse of cancer. More often than not, Indian families are unable to bear heavy cancer treatment expenses and have to resort to other ways of raising money for it, such as borrowings, loans, and selling personal assets.
That said, there are a few ways to arrange for funds for cancer treatments. Personal savings, insurances, and loans are among the most common ones. But sometimes even insurance may not suffice.
Cancer patients today are turning to alternative fundraising methods such as online crowdfunding, to raise money quickly through an online portal where people come together to help friends, families, and strangers in grave financial need.
The process is quite simple - start a fundraiser on the ImpactGuru.com, , write an appeal for funds, and share it with your friends and family on various social media platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp.
Soon enough, the word will be spread, and people from all over the world will be able to contribute towards yours or a loved one’s treatment fund.
We urge any in need of chemotherapy to give cancer crowdfunding a shot, and easily get medical financial assistance. You’ll be surprised to see how many well-wishers are out there, who’ll be happy to come forward a make a donation towards a cause that matters.
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