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Chemotherapy (often abbreviated to chemo) is the treatment of cancer with one or more cytotoxic anti-neoplastic drugs ("chemotherapeutic agents") as part of a standardized regimen. Cancer cells divide very rapidly. The main indication for chemotherapy is different types of cancers. They cure the cancer or prevent the cancer from spreading or at least help to relieve the symptoms when the cancer cannot be cured of to prevent or delay the recurrence of cancer.
Other non cancer indications for chemotherapeutic agents are rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriasis, ankylosing spondylitis and multiple sclerosis
Chemotherapy is given in a specialised clinic or a hospital. Your course of therapy will depend on your cancer type, the chemotherapy drugs used, the treatment goal and how your body responds to the treatment. It can use single agent or multiple agents. It will be given in cycles every day, every week or every month. In between the cycles there will be a rest period for your body and blood counts to come back to normal. Chemotherapy can be given in different ways like: Injections or shots into the muscles
Injections or shots under the skin
Into an artery
Into a vein (intravenous, IV)
Pills taken by mouth
Shots into the fluid around the spinal cord or brain
If chemotherapy has to be given for a long period, a thin tube called the central line is inserted into a large vein near the heart during a minor operation.
Good personal hygiene plays a salient role in the care of chemotherapy. Take daily baths or showers.
Make sure your clothes, towels and bed linen are washed regularly.
Wash your hands with soap and water regularly particularly after going to the toilet, before preparing food and eating meals.
Avoid contact with people who have infections. Instruct your visitors or your care takers to wear a mask, if they are having some kind of infections when they come to visit you
Do not handle sharp objects like blade, razor, knife as you may get cuts and have excessive bleeding
Use an electric razor to shave
To protect your gums use a toothbrush with soft bristles.
Common things to expect at home:
You may feel very tired, so take as much rest as possible
Do not push yourself very hard
You will have nausea; vomiting and also you may feel sick. Your doctor will have prescribed you medications called anti-emetics during discharge, to control these symptoms. Take them regularly. Continue them even if you are not having any symptoms.
Your hair will start falling 1-3 weeks after your 1st dose of chemotherapy and reaches the peak by 1-2 months. But do not worry; it is a temporary side effect. Your hair will start growing once you finish your chemotherapies. If you are finding it difficult to cope with this, use a head covering or a synthetic wig for time being.
Your mouth may feel sore and get ulcerated, as if you have burnt your mouth with hot food. Ulcers may develop in the gums, tongue and throat. It might be painful for you eat, drink and even talk. So avoid hot spicy and oily food. They will settle after chemotherapy is completed.
Your appetite will be low but make sure you maintain your nutrition by forcefully having at least liquids
Your skin may become dry and sore, particularly on your hands or feet and your nails may become brittle and flakier. Even white lines may develop across them.
Very rarely you may have problems with short-term memory, concentration and attention span. You may notice you are taking longer time for even routine work. This is due to fatigue and anxiety that you are facing. Do not worry. Things will improve after your chemotherapy has finished.
Chemotherapy agents cause harm to normal cells also. Hence side effects are seen, the extent of which depends on the type and dose of chemotherapy given. Once chemotherapy is stopped these side effects also wean off. Some of the side effects are:
More prone for infections
Bleed too much, even during everyday activities
Pain due to damage to the nerves
Dry mouth, mouth sores, or swelling in the mouth
Poor appetite, constipation
Upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
Loss of hair
Less common side effects include red skin, dry skin, damaged fingernails, a dry mouth
Organ damage to heart, kidneys, liver and inner ear
Interval radiological assessments are done regularly to know the disease status and also the benefit of the chemotherapy being given. Analysing the reports the oncologist (one who treats cancer) will decide whether to continue the same treatment or to change the chemotherapy drug.
Keep away from pets and animals as you are easily prone for infections
Try to work part-time until your chemotherapy is over to avoid undue strain
Avoid crowded places, parties and get together.
Do not use public transports at busy times.
Avoid going out in the sun when it is at its hottest. Start using sunscreen lotions and wearing a wide brim hat when you go out.
Go to bed in the night only when you are sleepy. Do not nap in the day. Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine, for at least six hours before you plan to go to bed
Any changes in sexuality and fertility are only temporary. They will return to normal once the treatment is over.
If you are a woman it is very important that you avoid becoming pregnant during chemotherapy, as these drugs affect the growth of the foetus. Consult your doctor regarding the contraception methods that you can follow
Alcohol might have good effects on heart, but you may be advised to avoid or limit alcohol with certain types of chemo drugs and also if you are having mouth sores, upset stomach, etc.