Chemotherapy & Immunotherapies
Chemotherapy treatment is often used in conjunction with other cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy or surgery, and is performed by a medical oncologist. Chemotherapy works by entering the bloodstream and then damages dividing cells. Since cancer cells are constantly dividing, chemotherapy can often be an effective way to target and kill growing cancer. Chemotherapy can be administered in multiple ways including: an injection into the bloodstream, a drip (intravenous infusion) into the bloodstream, tablets, or capsules.
Chemotherapy Side Effects
There are more than 90 different chemotherapy drugs, and different drugs can cause different side effects. It is important to discuss with your doctor about the specific side effects that can be caused by your treatment. Also, chemotherapy can sometimes be mild for some patients and more severe for others. It is important to remember that most side effects are short term and will start to go away after the treatment has finished. Also, there are medicines available that can reduce the side effects during treatment. The following are common side effects of chemotherapy:
- Tiredness – fatigue may occur during treatment and can last for a few months after treatment ends
- Weakness – it is common to feel weak and as though you have no energy
- Nausea and Diarrhea – usually occurs within the first few days after treatment and can be controlled with medicines
- Mouth sores
- Low white blood cell count – this increases the risk of developing infections during treatment
- Hair, skin and nails – hair loss is a common side effect of some chemotherapy, but is temporary and the hair starts to grow back a few weeks after treatment ends. Some drugs can make your skin or nails dry and sensitive and may even causes rashes.
- Damaged nerves – some drugs can damage nerves, particularly in your hands and feet, and can make them feel numb or cause feelings like pins and needles poking them
- Sex and fertility – it is common for patients to feel tired and temporarily lose interest in sex during treatment. Some drugs may affect fertility. Discuss with your doctor before you start treatment if you plan to have a child.
Immunotherapy is also called biologic therapy. It is a type of cancer treatment that is specifically designed to boost the body’s natural cancer-fighting defenses. Substances made either by the body or in a laboratory improve or restore the body’s immune system function. Immunotherapies are available for certain types of cancer. Ask your doctor if one is right for your diagnosis.