Chemotherapy refers to the use of cytotoxic drugs in cancer treatment.'Chemo' means medicine or 'drug'; 'therapy' means 'treatment'.Chemotherapeutic agents
or drugs are 'magic bullets'
that destroy the fast-dividing cancer cells. However these drugs are unable to differentiate between the normal cells and the cancer cells and they destroy the former too, in their war against cancer. This leads to certain side effects.
Chemotherapy is used in over half the patients
who are treated with cancer. It is used to treat not only the cancer cells in an organ but also to treat distant sites to which the tumor or cancer might have spread. Hence chemotherapy is a systemic therapy
, meaning, it treats the body as a whole.
When Chemotherapy was first put into practice there were many side effects
and sometimes they proved to be fatal. Now the practice is much safer with better monitoring and the usage of combination therapy. When an oncologist prescribes a chemotherapy regimen, they give a combination of drugs
to treat the cancer. Some of these drugs are administered to treat the dividing cells at various stages. The regimen may also include some supportive drugs to minimize the side effects. To get the best results it is important to follow the regimen
and the schedule.
In the earlier days
, when popping an aspirin for a headache was also referred to as chemotherapy, the word was used in reference to any drug or medicine
employed to treat a disease. The word ‘anti-bacterial chemotherapy’ is used when antibiotics are employed to control a disease. In that sense, syphilis-treating arsenic compounds were the first modern chemotherapeutic agents. This was followed by other antibiotics, like Sulphonamides and Penicillin. In the modern sense
it primarily refers to the cytotoxic drugs
used in cancer treatment.
Cancerous conditions like Hodgkins lymphoma, non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, certain types of leukemia and testicular tumor are fully cured
using these cytotoxic drugs.
Chemotherapy agents have also found use to treat non-cancer conditions like overcoming transplant rejections
and to treat autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis
Before starting the chemotherapy one needs to check the performance status
of the patient. Performance status is usually a score that tells the physician if the patient is fit to undergo chemotherapy or if the dose of the drugs needs to be reduced.