Chemotherapy (Medical oncology)



Chemotherapy is an important and key part of cancer treatment.  Compared to surgical or radiation approaches, chemotherapy has the advantage of providing a systemic (whole body) treatment.  Why is that an advantage in cancer management?  Cancer cells often take off from the primary site and travel to distant parts of the body, and when they find a suitable site, they stay and become what is called distant metastasis.  Chemotherapy can sometimes catch and kill those cancer cells before they settle down in a new location, which means reducing the risks of distant mets.  Even when distant mets already occur, chemotherapy can stop the cancer from further relocation to other organs or parts.   However, chemotherapy induces more side effects than the local treatments of surgery or radiotherapy. 

Possible side effects

These cytotoxic drugs attack the rapid growing tumor cells as well as the healthy cells of fast growth and proliferation, and so could cause side effects such as a dropin white blood cells, hair loss, etc.  Fast growing cells in the human body include red and white blood cells and platelets, hair follicle stem cells, intestinal epithelial cells, reproductive cells, etc.  Therefore, the more commonly seen side effects related to chemotherapy could be infection caused by dropping white cells, loss of hair, oral mucositis, or esophagitis, decreased fertility, etc.

Certain chemo drugs could induce some other kinds of side effects, such as myocardial injury, allergy, nausea and vomiting, neuropathy, impaired liver or kidney function, etc.

Development of chemotherapy

New chemotherapeutic agents continue to emerge as medicine continues to advance.   Side effects seem to have decreased but some other issues have appeared.   For instance, carboplatin causes fewer kidney problems than cisplatin, but it’s accompanied by lower platelet count. On the positive side, the earlier form of Doxorubicin tended to cause chronic myocardial injury while the new improved Doxorubicin balls can reduce the myocardial toxic impact and in turn improve the quality of life. 

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