What is Chemotherapy?
is the use of medications or chemicals with cancer-fighting abilities.
This why chemotherapy is often called an anti-cancer agent.
all begins with normal cells versus cancer cells. Normal, healthy cells
divide and grow in a patterned, controlled behavior. As they divide,
replicas are produced. Cancer cells, on the other hand, grow out of
is no apparent pattern at all. When in contact with a normal cell, the
cancer cell takes over and copies itself many times over. In this way,
the body becomes overburdened with cancer cells. Chemotherapy destroys
cancer cells with drugs.
specific information about chemotherapy for testicular cancer -
checkout this writeup by Dr. Lawrence H. Einhorn, MD (an expert in the
field of testicular cancer) -- Click
does Chemotherapy Work?
drugs interfere with the cancer cells' ability to grow or multiply.
Different groups of drugs act on cells in different ways.
Identification of the type of disease is important because certain
chemotherapies work best for certain diseases. For example, a patient
treated for acute myelogenous leukemia is treated with different agents
than one treated with Hodgkin's disease. Even patients diagnosed with
the same disease may be treated with different agents, depending on
what is known to be most effective for the particular circumstances.
can damage normal cells as well as cancer cells. Those normal cells
most effected are ones which divide rapidly. These include the hair
follicles, cells in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and bone marrow.
Consequently, side effects can occur including: hair loss, mouth sores,
difficulty in swallowing, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea,
infection, anemia, and increase risk of bleeding. These side effects
will be discussed in greater detail later.
How is Chemotherapy Given?
can be given in different ways. The five most common methods are:
- intravenous (IV)
- oral (PO)
- intramuscular (IM)
- intrathecal (IT)
- intraperitoneal (IP)
The intravenous route or
IV is a very common way of giving medicine directly into a
vein. A small plastic needle is inserted into one of the veins in the
lower arm. There is some discomfort during insertion because a needle
stick is required to get into the vein. After that, the administration
of the medication is usually painless.
flows from the IV bag/bottle, through the needle and catheter into the
bloodstream. Sometimes a syringe is used to "push" the chemotherapy
through the tubing.
The oral method takes the form of either a
pill, capsule or liquid taken by mouth. This is the easiest and most
convenient method and can usually be done at home. Under certain
special circumstances, chemotherapy given by other routes may also be
administered at home.
Intramuscular means that the chemotherapy
is given by way of an injection into the muscle. There is a slight
sting as the needle is placed into the muscle of the arm, thigh or
buttocks. Although, this procedure only lasts a few seconds, the effect
of the intramuscular chemotherapy may last much longer. This is because
the chemotherapy may be absorbed slowly through the muscular tissues
and into the bloodstream.
forms of cancer have a tendency to spread to the nervous system. To
treat cancer that spreads to the spinal cord or brain, doctors may
perform a spinal tap and inject chemotherapy into the spinal fluid.
This is known as the intrathecal method
Permanent and Temporary Catheters - For some patients, IV
insertions can eventually damage the veins in the arm. Some patients
have small veins and some have very few accessible veins. Frequent IV
insertions and too small or too few veins may prompt the doctor to
recommend a permanent type of IV catheter. Permanent catheters allow
patients to go home and receive chemotherapy without needing other IV's
placed. Along with receiving chemotherapy and IV fluids through this
catheter, patients can receive blood products and even have their blood
drawn without painful needle sticks.
Information on Radiation Therapy
therapy is the use of high level radiation to destroy cancer cells.
Both tumor cells and healthy cells may be affected by this radiation.
The radiation injures the cancer cells so they can no longer continue
to divide or multiply. With each treatment, more of the cells die and
the tumor shrinks. The dead cells are broken down, carried away by the
blood and excreted by the body. Most of the healthy cells are able to
recover from this injury. However, the damage to the healthy cells is
the reason for the side effects of radiation therapy. Radiation has its
greatest effect on tissues that divide rapidly.
dose of radiation is determined by the size, extent, type and grade of
tumor along with its response to radiation therapy. Complex
calculations are done to determine the dose and timing of radiation in
treatment planning. Often, the treatment is given over several
different angles in order to deliver the maximum amount of radiation to
the tumor and the minimum amount to normal tissues.
Some things to remember about radiation therapy:
- The side effects that
occur during radiation therapy are manageable. Your doctors and nurses
will help you with these.
- The radiation passes
through your body and does not remain in you. You are not radioactive.
- Only the body part in the
field of radiation is affected.
- Normal cells exposed to
radiation begin to repair themselves hours after exposure.