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How Does Chemotherapy Work?

Cancer By Vatsal Anand , Onlymyhealth editorial team / Jul 20, 2012
How Does Chemotherapy Work?

How does chemotherapy work: The procedure of chemotherapy involves killing the cancerous cell growth by application of certain drugs. The major problem with this treatment is that along with cancer cells, the normal healthy cells also get destroye

There is a normal cycle of growth and death of cells but cancer disrupts that. The cancer treatment through chemotherapy is all about destroying the cancer cells and preventing them from multiplying. Cancer cells have the tendency to divide and multiply and chemotherapy prevents that. Unfortunately, the cells that are not cancerous are also destroyed in the process. That is how chemotherapy works but the therapists always strive to minimise such negative effects.


Effect of chemotherapy drugs on healthy cells


Chemotherapy drugs either destroy the cancer cells; prevent them from reproducing or restricting the flow of enzymes or proteins the cells need to survive. The trouble in this procedure is that these drugs not only attack cancer cells but also healthy normal cells. It leads to serious side effects such as:

  • Severe weakness as lot of normal red blood cells gets destroyed along with cancer cells.
  • Hair fall as the cells of the hair follicle get destroyed.

In the process of chemotherapy, in particular the healthy cells that naturally divide quickly get destroyed.


The cell cycle and chemotherapy


There are four stages through which normal cells go through. Out of these, three are active phases while one is the resting phase. It is important to understand the cell cycle as some chemotherapy drugs work only on the cells that are in one of the phases, called the reproductive phase, called G1. There are some drugs which attack the cells which are in the other two phases, called M and S.

The understanding of the way these drugs work help oncologists arrive at the right combination to be administered to the patients. Moreover, the timing of each of the doses can be planned according to the phases in which the cells are.

Oncologists have to struggle when they use chemotherapy, because they are unable to differentiate between cancerous cells and healthy cells to target for treatment. They have to keep the side effects caused by damage to normal cells to a minimum. So, when chemotherapy is given, the following is kept in mind:

  • Destroy the cancer cells for controlling or curing the disease.
  • Avoiding exposure of the drugs to normal cells as far as possible to minimise side effects.



Ways of administering chemotherapy drugs

There are three ways in which the chemotherapy drugs are administered:

  • Taking a pill is one of the methods.
  • Some chemo drugs are administered through an intramuscular shot.
  • Intravenous administration of chemotherapy drug is also done. It is the most common method.

For all of these procedures, the patient needs to be monitored at a hospital.

Information on the way chemotherapy works given here can be very useful for patients to understand what lies in store. They should be vigilant about choosing the doctor and get the treatment from one who is an expert in minimising side effects.


Read more articles on Cancer




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