What is Chemotherapy?

Hand of elderly person with IVChemotherapy is a drug treatment. It uses powerful chemicals to kill fast-growing cancer cells in your body. There are many different chemotherapy drugs available. You can use chemotherapy drugs alone or in combination to treat a wide variety of cancers.

Though chemotherapy is an effective way to treat many types of cancer, it also carries a risk of side effects. Some chemotherapy side effects are mild and treatable, while others can cause serious complications.

Types of Chemotherapy Drugs

There are more than 100 different chemotherapy drugs. They can either be taken alone or in combination with other drugs or treatments. These drugs are very different in their chemical composition. It all depends on how you take them, their usefulness in treatment, and their side effects.

Knowing how the drug works is important in predicting side effects from it. This helps doctors decide which drugs are likely to work well together or if they need to use more than one drug. This information also helps them plan exactly when each of the drugs should be given.

ALKYLATING AGENTS-Alkylating agents keep the cell from reproducing by damaging its DNA. These drugs work in all phases of the cell cycle.

Used to treat:

  • Leukemia
  • Lymphoma
  • Hodgkin disease
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Sarcoma
  • Cancers of the lung, breast, and ovary

Caution:

  • May damage bone marrow.

ANTIMETABOLITES-Antimetabolites interfere with DNA and RNA growth. By substituting for the normal building blocks of RNA and DNA. These agents damage cells during the phase when the cell’s chromosomes are being copied.

Used to treat:

  • Cancer of the breast, ovary, and intestinal tract
  • Caution:
  • None

ANTI-TUMOR ANTIBIOTICS-Anti-tumor antibiotics are not like the antibiotics used to treat infections. They work by changing the DNA inside cancer cells to keep them from growing and multiplying.

Used to treat:

  • Many types of cancer.
  • Caution:
  • High doses can damage the heart.

TOPOISOMERASE INHIBITORS-Topoisomerase inhibitors interfere with enzymes called topoisomerases. Which help separate the strands of DNA so they can be copied. (Enzymes are proteins that cause chemical reactions in living cells.)

Used to treat:

  • Leukemia
  • Lung, ovarian, gastrointestinal and other cancers
  • Caution:
  • It can make a person more likely to get a second cancer, called acute myeloid leukemia within two to three years.

MITOTIC INHIBITORS-Mitotic inhibitors are compounds derived from natural products, such as plants. They work by stopping cells from dividing to form new cells. But can damage cells in all phases. They keep enzymes from making proteins needed for cell reproduction.

Used to treat:

  • Myeloma
  • Lymphomas
  • Leukemia
  • Breast or lung cancer
  • Caution:
  • More likely than other types of  chemotherapy to cause painful nerve damage.

Side effects of chemotherapy drugs can be significant. Each drug has different side effects, and not every drug causes every side effect. Ask your doctor about the side effects of the particular drugs you'll receive.

Side Effects that Occur During Chemotherapy Treatment

Watching a loved one go through chemotherapy can be a heart-wrenching experience. At times, you’re likely to feel at a loss on what to do. And supporting them as they undergo chemo can seem like a terrifying ordeal.The experienced side effects place a lot of strain on your loved one. Both emotionally and physically, and you too might feel their pain. But you need to be strong. You need to be their pillar of support. And you’ll need to try and put your emotions aside so you can help them get through this tough period.

Common Side Effects of Chemotherapy Drugs Include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hair Loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Mouth Sores
  • Pain
  • Constipation
  • Easy bruising
  • You can prevent or treat many of these side effects. Most side effects subside after treatment ends.

How to Prepare for Chemotherapy?

  • Have a port surgically implanted into a large vein in your chest.
  • Get tested to make sure your body is able and ready for chemotherapy.
  • Consult with your dentist. Make sure you do not have any infections that may reduce complications.
  • Plan ahead for side effects.
  • Make arrangements for someone to help you after.
  • Make sure you are well rested.
  • Eat a light meal ahead of time to help with nausea.

What to Do and Not to Do After Chemotherapy

What to Do:

  • Convenience your loved one to get plenty of sleep to recharge the body to get stronger.
  • Prepare nutritious and healthy meals.
  • Keep the body hydrated.
  • Keep your loved one's company. This is a scary time and your loved ones will need support.
  • Be patient, hopeful and positive.
  • Prayers and inspiration.
  • Encourage exercise. A small walk  outside can do wonders.
  • Keep their surroundings clean.
  • Encourage wearing a mask when  around others to prevent infections.

What Not to Do:

  • Do not take anything for granted. Be aware of anything out of the ordinary.
  • Don't let them garden or touch plants.
  • Stay away from or handling animals.
  • Keep impatient or stress to a minimum.
  • Do not lose faith; be brave for your loved ones.
  • Do not let them miss appointments.

As a family caregiver, it is very important for you to keep up your own health and attitude, in order to provide the best possible support to the patient. That means not overlooking your own physical and emotional needs. Eat right, get plenty of rest, exercise and make time for yourself. Find a friend with whom you can share your frustrations, concerns, and hopes.

About the author

Tena Scallan is a passionate healthcare professional, business owner and published author with over 25 years of experience in the healthcare industry. Tena has dedicated her life’s work to working in hospitals, running her own in-home caregiving agency and providing coaching and guidance for family caregivers. Tena firmly believes that both home and lifestyle can be preserved by in-home compassionate caregiving in the face of aging or illness. Check out her site here.