Bringing Out the Big Guns: All About Chemotherapy for Cancer

You can beat it. You just have to hang in there.

Cancer. It’s more common than you might imagine, and so many doctors have doubled their efforts to help patients fight the good fight. And, many are winning. With the latest chemotherapy drugs, patients are living longer and better quality lives. Here’s what you need to know about it.

What Is It?

Chemotherapy or “chemo” is the use of various drugs to destroy cancer cells. The idea is to use these drugs to destroy the cancer before the drugs (or the cancer) destroys the immune system or enough healthy cells that the patient dies.

It works by keeping the cancer cells from growing and multiplying. Because cancer usually grows and divides faster than healthy cells, the chemo helps to destroy them more quickly than it destroys most of the healthy cells in a patient’s body.

They’re powerful, however, and they can cause damage to many of your own growing, healthy cells. The damage is what are known as chemotherapy side-effects. And, when doctors misuse chemo, or aren’t careful in its administration, attorneys, like Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C. are often the ones called in to look over cases of negligence or malpractice.

It’s a delicate balancing act. Doctors need to do the damage to the cancer, but they also must not do unreasonable damage to the patient.

Different Types of Chemotherapy

Several types of chemo drugs exist on the marketplace, and they’re divided up into three categories: standard chemotherapy, traditional chemotherapy, and cytotoxic chemotherapy. Many of the newer drugs are targeted towards certain types of cells, and these are called “targeted chemotherapy drugs.”

They work a bit differently from most chemo drugs, are less toxic to the body and, thus, come with fewer side effects. Because they work specifically on the cancer cells, they cause different side effects which are associated with the die off of these cells.

How Does Chemotherapy Work?

Doctors use chemotherapy differently depending on the type of cancer and the purpose for the chemo. For example, before surgery or radiation therapy, doctors might use chemo to shrink tumors, called neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

They may use it after surgery or radiation to kill remaining cancer cells, called adjuvant chemotherapy. Doctors often use chemo as the only treatment for blood or lymph-based cancers. These include cancers like lymphoma or leukemia. For cancers that come back after the treatment, this is called recurrent cancer and it’s treated with additional chemotherapy. When cancer spreads to other parts of the body, doctors call this metastatic cancer. This also must be treated with chemotherapy.

The Goal Of Chemotherapy

The goal of chemo is to slow and kill cancer growth. Most doctors recognize that chemo is not typically curative so much as it is a treatment that can delay the growth of cancer. Chemo is often given specifically for this purpose, sometimes called “palliative chemotherapy.” The idea is that if enough of your body’s immune system is left, then it can destroy what’s left of the cancer.

However, the survival rates for cancer are typically very low, especially long-term. This is because cancer often returns.

How Long Does It Take?

You might get chemo for a specific amount of time, like 6 months or even a year. You might also get it for as long as it keeps working. Doctors are hesitant to withdraw therapy when you show improvement in your condition. Side effects range from mild to severe. Doctors usually give the drugs with breaks to give your body time to rest because the side effects can be very severe and debilitating.

Jake Hewitson works in the medical field and takes an interest in the latest breakthroughs and technology. He often writes on medical topics for health blogs.