Chemotherapy in cancer

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  • Chemotherapy in cancer
  • Course of chemotherapy
  • Side effects of chemotherapy

In addition to radiation and surgery, chemotherapy is one of three treatment options that can be used to treat cancer. It is especially important for leukemia and lymph node cancer, but it is also used in other cancers. Chemotherapy is often associated with side effects such as hair loss or nausea and vomiting. The extent to which side effects occur depends on the type and dosage of cytostatic agents used. Learn more about the effects, course and side effects of chemotherapy.

What is chemotherapy?

The term chemotherapy generally summarizes all drug treatments that prevent cells from growing or dying. Today, however, the term is used almost exclusively in the context of cancer. If a malignant tumor is present, it is combated in the context of chemotherapy with the help of so-called cytostatics. These drugs help prevent the cancer cells from sharing and dying.

Chemotherapy is particularly effective in cancers that are not localized but in which the cancer cells have spread throughout the body. This is the case, for example, with leukemia or lymph node cancer. The treatment may be useful under certain conditions but also in various other forms of cancer, such as breast cancer, lung cancer or colon cancer.

Surgery and radiotherapy

In addition to chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery are two more treatment options available. They are among the local treatment options, as their effect on a specific body region is limited. In contrast, chemotherapy is a systemic therapy.

Systemic means that the drugs develop their effect throughout the body. This is why chemotherapy is first used for cancers such as leukemia or lymph node cancer that can not be treated locally. For other cancers, it is used primarily if the cancer has possibly or safely spread and metastases have formed.

In a few tumor types, chemotherapy can also be used locally. Then the drugs are injected high-dose directly into the blood vessel that supplies the affected organ. So that the cytostatics do not reach the rest of the body from there, some of the blood vessels are temporarily disconnected.

Adjuvant, additive and neoadjuvant chemotherapy

Often, chemotherapy is not used alone, but in conjunction with surgery, radiation, or both. This is the case with adjuvant, additive and neoadjuvant chemotherapy:

  • Adjunct chemotherapy: adjuvant chemotherapy is performed following surgery to completely remove the malignant tumor. Its purpose is to prevent any cancer cells (micrometastases) remaining in the body from further multiplying and causing a renewed outbreak of the cancer.
  • Additive chemotherapy: If not all tumor tissue could be removed by surgery, chemotherapy will also be used. This will reduce the size of the tumor and prevent further spread of the cancer.
  • Neoadjuvant chemotherapy: If a tumor can not be completely removed due to its size, for example, neoadjuvant chemotherapy is used. The aim of the treatment is to reduce the size of the tumor so that surgical removal is possible afterwards.

Curative and palliative chemotherapy

Depending on the stage of the tumor, chemotherapy may have different goals. If a complete healing of the affected person is possible, one speaks of a curative therapy.

On the other hand, if the cancer is already too advanced, only palliative treatment is possible. Here, chemotherapy plays an important role in, for example, advanced breast cancer, colon cancer or lung cancer. It is designed to help shrink metastases and slow the progression of the disease. In addition, the treatment should extend the life expectancy of the patient and improve his quality of life.

It should be noted in a palliative treatment that the side effects of chemotherapy are lower than those complaints that would cause the cancer untreated.

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