What is Chemotherapy? What Are the Side Effects of Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is treatment using anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells or control their growth.


What is Chemotherapy? What Are the Side Effects of Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is treatment using anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells or control their growth. It can be used alone or in combination with surgery and radiotherapy in cancer treatment. The aim of chemotherapy in cancer treatment varies according to the type and extent of the disease.

The aim of chemotherapy is:

  • To treat the disease
  • To control the disease by preventing the proliferation of cancer cells and slowing their spread.
  • To increase the quality of life of the person by eliminating the complaints and symptoms related to the disease
  • Reducing disease recurrence when administered after surgery or radiotherapy
  • Facilitate local treatments by applying before surgery or radiotherapy

How Do Chemotherapy Drugs Work?

The development and death process of normal and healthy cells in the body proceeds in order and control. However, the growth and death of cancer cells have come out of this control process, and these cells begin to grow and multiply in an uncontrolled way. Almost all chemotherapy drugs are distributed throughout the body through the blood, reaching the cells that multiply uncontrollably, killing them or preventing their uncontrolled growth. While chemotherapy drugs destroy these bad cells, they also affect normal cells in the body. This is manifested by several side effects related to chemotherapy in the body. However, these undesirable effects of existing drugs on normal cells are temporary.

How and Where Is Chemotherapy Given?

The way chemotherapy drugs are administered in the body can be in different ways. Currently, four other methods are used in treatment:

By mouth (oral): Medicines can be taken orally as pills, capsules, or solutions.

Through a vein (intravenously): It is the most commonly used method of chemotherapy drugs. The application is made by adding medications to the serum or directly into the vein with an injector. In general, the veins on the arms and hands are used for this procedure. Sometimes different instruments such as ports, catheters, and pumps can be used in intravenous treatment.

By injection: Medications can sometimes be given by direct injection into the muscle (intramuscular) or under the skin (subcutaneous). Another injection method is the administration of the drug directly into the tumor tissue (intralesional).

Externally on the skin (topical): It is the application of the drug directly on the skin from the outside.

Chemotherapy drugs can be administered at home, in a hospital setting, or private centers. Where the treatment will be applied, the way the drug is given; The general condition of the patient is decided according to the preferences of the patient and his doctor. The application to be made in the hospital can be made in inpatient or outpatient chemotherapy units.

How Chemotherapy Affects Daily Life and How Does the Patient Feel?

Although various unpleasant side effects develop in patients while receiving chemotherapy, many patients continue without severe restrictions in their daily lives. In general, the severity of these side effects varies according to the type and intensity of the drugs taken. The patient’s general condition, the prevalence of the disease, and the symptoms caused by the disease can also affect this process. While receiving chemotherapy treatment, many patients can continue their working lives. Still, sometimes, if fatigue and similar symptoms occur after treatment, the patient may spend this period resting by restricting his activities. Although there are some complaints about the treatment, these patients do not need to isolate themselves from society and make severe changes in their daily lives.

Does the Patient Feel Pain While Receiving Chemotherapy?

The patient does not feel pain while the chemotherapy drug is given. However, sometimes the chemotherapy drug can leak out of the vein from the area where the needle is inserted. This can cause complaints such as pain, redness, burning, and swelling in the area where the medicine is attached. In such a case, the treating nurse should be informed immediately, and chemotherapy should be stopped until vascular access is in place. Otherwise, the escape of the drug out of the vein may cause severe tissue damage in that area.

What Are the Possible Side Effects of Chemotherapy?

While chemotherapy destroys cancerous cells in the body, it also affects normal cells and causes side effects. Possible side effects due to chemotherapy and the severity vary according to the drugs taken and personal sensitivities. The regular cells most affected by chemotherapy drugs are the cells that multiply the fastest in the body. Hair, blood cells that develop in the bone marrow, and cells in the digestive system come first among these cells, which can reproduce rapidly. For this reason, the most undesirable effects of drugs are seen on these systems. Despite this, these cells multiply in a short time due to their rapid proliferation and regeneration feature and eliminate these adverse effects of chemotherapy.

The Most Common Possible Side Effects Related to Chemotherapy:

Fatigue: It is one of the most common side effects after treatment. Fatigue can be due to various causes, such as anemia or the patient's sense of burnout. If the cause is anemia, fatigue can be eliminated with blood transfusion, and if it is due to psychological reasons, help from an expert can be sought.

Nausea and Vomiting: It is one of the most worrying issues for patients before treatment. Nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy may occur immediately after treatment or a few days after the end of treatment. Sometimes, patients may experience nausea called anticipatory nausea before starting treatment. The complaint of nausea and vomiting is a condition that can be prevented or minimized thanks to newly developed drugs.

Hair Loss: Some chemotherapy drugs can cause temporary hair loss. The degree of hair loss varies according to the type and dose of the drug taken. Generally, hair loss occurs 2-3 weeks after the start of treatment. This is a quick process; the hair will grow 3-4 weeks after the treatment is completed.

Decrease in Blood Values: While receiving chemotherapy, a decrease in both red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets can be seen in the body. This is because the drugs suppress blood production in the bone marrow. Red blood cells are oxygen-carrying cells, and in their deficiency, symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, palpitations occur. White blood cells serve in the body's defense against germs, and when their number decreases, a person can become infected very easily. Platelets are responsible for blood clotting. Bleeding such as easy bruising, easy nose, and gum bleeding can be seen in the body when the number decreases.

Mouth Sores: Chemotherapy drugs can sometimes cause inflammatory sores in the mouth. Patients should pay attention to their oral hygiene, avoid very hot or very cold drinks, and moisten their lips with creams will minimize mouth sores. In addition, an opinion can be obtained from the attending physician for additional treatments in oral wounds.

Diarrhea and Constipation: Depending on the type of chemotherapy drug used, patients may experience diarrhea or constipation. These complaints can be eliminated with diet and various simple drug treatments. However, sometimes diarrhea is much more severe than expected, and it may be necessary to take fluid support from the intravenous line. In such a case, the following doctor should be informed.

Skin and Nail Changes: Some chemotherapy drugs can cause skin darkening, peeling, redness or dryness, darkening of the nails, and easy breakage. In this case, irritant substances such as cologne and alcohol should be avoided. Dressing can be done with warm water, and simple moisturizers can be used. These complaints are generally not severe and improve over time, but the following doctor should be informed if the current symptoms are severe.