Chemotherapy: secondary effects, definition, what is it really?

Chemotherapy: secondary effects, definition, what is it really?

Chemotherapy is a therapy mostly used to treat some types of cancer. There are two types: adjuvant and neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Whilst being very intense and restricting, chemotherapy also has a number of secondary effects.

Definition: what is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a therapy in which medication is given to eliminate the cancerous cells or prevent their further growth. This treatment is most commonly employed to treat a huge number of cancers, often in combination with radiotherapy or surgery.

In the human body, there is a delicate balance between the number of cells. When a cell becomes abnormal, it divides and multiplies uncontrollably which can form a tumour. The aim of chemotherapy is to attack the growth factors of the cancerous cells and stop them from overgrowing.

There are two types of chemotherapy depending on when the therapy is given. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is administered before surgery or radiotherapy and attempts to reduce the tumour. In contrast to this, adjuvant chemotherapy is administered after and aims to eliminate cancerous cells.

Methods of administrating chemotherapy

Administering medication can be done in many ways. The most common way is intravenous, meaning through a direct injection into the veins via an infusion. This is done during sessions at the hospital, of which the duration and frequency varies, according to the people concerned. Between courses, a relaxation period is scheduled to allow the blood cells to rest and the body to regain its strength.

Chemotherapy can also be administered orally, which allows treatment to be carried out without having to return to the hospital and so can be adapted easier to daily and social activities. Its efficiency depends on the patient and their ability to follow the treatment, by strictly following the dosage prescribed by the doctor. This is strictly individual and is established by the physician, taking into account the state of health, the type of disease, family history and, depending on the case, the body surface (BMI).

Secondary effects of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy attacks all cells that are quickly multiplying, which is the case with cancerous cells. However, it can also attack healthy cells in the body such as white blood cells, which play an essential role in the immune system. This is why these undesirable secondary effects appear. These can vary depending on the individual and according to their medications used and their doses. These effects include:

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- progressive and generally temporary hair loss (alopecia)

- diarrhoea

- problems with the skin

- numbness in the hands or feet

- brittle nails

- sores on the inside of the mouth

- muscle pains

- heart problems

Stacey Williams
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