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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a correct cancer diagnosis is vital for adequate and effective treatment because every cancer type requires a specific treatment regimen that encompasses one or more modalities like surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy and the main goal is generally to treat cancer. Hence, it is essnetail for people to know how chemotherapy works. Here, Dr Pritam S Kataria, Medical and Hemat oncologist at Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai, briefs you about it.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is used in treating cancer. The term chemotherapy refers to the drugs which prevent cancer cells from dividing and growing and It does this by killing the dividing cells. As part of the body's natural process, cells are replaced by a process of dividing and growing. But, when cancer occurs, cells tend to reproduce in an uncontrolled way. Hence, chemotherapy drugs interfere with a cancer cell's ability to divide and reproduce. To tackle cancer, a single drug or a combination of drugs are used. So, these can be delivered either directly into the bloodstream, to attack cancer cells, or they can be targeted to specific cancer sites. "It is generally available in the intravenous form," says Dr Kataria. It can be injected directly into a vein with a needle or can be delivered through an intravenous infusion.
5 Must-know things about chemotherapy
1: The duration
" Chemotherapy treatments can range from a few months to years depending on the spread and intensity of cancer. On average, it is administered as weekly or on the basis of three weekly regimen. The duration can be few months or continued as maintenance based on the stage of cancer. However in case of maintenance cycles, periodic assessment is required which the treating onco-physician would advise you," says Dr Kataria.
2: The side-effects
"Each chemotherapy agent would have its own bunch of side effects. However, almost all the drug have some basic side effects like nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, mucositis (the inflammation and ulceration of the mucous membranes lining the oral cavity which is painful), neutropenia (can be called as a blood condition which is characterized by low levels of neutrophils, which are white blood cells that protect the body from infections) and thrombocytopenia (deficiency of platelets in the blood) . Though, all the patients may not experience the mentioned side-effects. But, awareness is required so that the symptoms are not missed and the doctor can be consulted on time." highlights Dr Kataria.
3: Precautions while undergoing chemotherapy
"One should maintain good hygiene, eat fresh food and give up on raw or stale food. Your diet should be loaded with proteins and vitamins. Furthermore, you should avoid going to crowded areas. Thus, doing so can help you in keeping additional infections at bay," advises Dr Kataria.
4: When to contact your doctor?
"If you have undergone chemotherapy and notice any side-effects lasting for more than a day, then connect to your expert immediately. The other symptoms that one should keep in mind are a fever of 100.5 F or higher, bleeding, pain or redness at the IV site where the chemo was given, inability to swallow/ keep down liquids/ the chemo pills," explains Dr Kataria.
5: Hair loss
"Hair loss or alopecia may occur with the chemotherapy drugs. It may be complete or incomplete alopecia. However the alopecia is reversible and the hair growth occurs once the chemotherapy is over," says Dr Kataria.
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