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Chemotherapy is the term used to describe any treatment involving the use of chemical agents to stop cancer cells from multiplying and growing by interfering with its cellular functions. Chemotherapy is considered a systemic treatment because it can affect other cancer cells that are far from the original cancer site inside the body. It is primarily used to treat systemic cancer rather than a localized tumor that can be treated with surgery or radiation. The goal of chemotherapy is to cure, control, and palliate the symptoms caused by cancer. However, these goals must be realistic, as this defines the amount of medications to be used and the aggressiveness of the treatment plan.
How it works
The main purpose of chemotherapy is to stop the multiplication of cancer cells so that the extent of the disease will not worsen further. Chemotherapy may be introduced to the body intravenously, orally, or injected to a body cavity. The route of administration of the chemotherapy drug depends on the medication being used.
Chemotherapy works by destroying cancer cells. But chemotherapy drugs are not selective to destroying only the fast-growing cancer cells as they also eliminate the naturally fast-growing healthy cells in the body, such as the cells of the hair and blood.
Side effects are undesirable consequences of chemotherapy that affects the body. The common side effects and complications of chemotherapy are:
- Low white blood cell count
- Low red blood cell count
- Low platelet count
- Hair loss
Some side effects of chemotherapy may be temporary, but uncomfortable. The side effects of chemotherapy can make a person susceptible to infections and other diseases because the chemotherapy treatment can suppress the immune system of the body. Since the risk for infection is very high, some patients require long-term hospitalization while undergoing chemotherapy and additional protection against infection is also required. If the other side effects are not intervened on time, this can result to life-threatening situations.
The development of the proactive therapy is most beneficial to those undergoing chemotherapy as it helps in managing the side effects of chemotherapy.
Importance of dose and schedule
The dose and schedule of chemotherapy is individualized. It depends on the type of cancer, its stage of advancement, and the overall health of a person. The doctor develops the treatment plan that is scientifically designed based on the said criteria. The schedule consists of the different chemotherapy agents, and the specific doses and intervals. Generally, treatments may be given daily, weekly, or monthly. The doctor will help in determining the most effective treatment schedule.
The goal of the individualized schedule of treatment is to make the course of chemotherapy as effective, timely, and problem-free as possible. However, some side effects may interfere with the course of treatment, and this requires the doctor to either delay the treatment or further increase the dose of chemotherapy.
Benefits and disadvantages
Similar to any other treatment, chemotherapy has its own set of risks and benefits. The doctor will help the patient decide on the best treatment. It will be most beneficial for the patient to balance the potential benefits against the risks of treatment. Other options in treating cancer will be given as a choice for the person, but this will be further discussed with the doctor.
This mode of cancer treatment may require long-term hospitalization. Thus, a patient may spend a long time away from family and friends. Uncomfortable side effects or long-term complications are also expected.
Chemotherapy in the Philippines
Chemotherapy is offered in most high-end tertiary hospitals in the Philippines. However, since treatment may be long-term, not all people can afford chemotherapy. Charities and other non-government organizations, such as the Cancer Institute Foundation, Inc., are in the move to helping people with cancer avail chemotherapy.