Chemotherapy, sometimes referred to as chemo is the use of medicines or drugs to treat cancer. There are more than 100 chemo drugs. Chemo may be used to: Keep the cancer from spreading, slow the cancer’s growth, kill cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of the body, relieve symptoms such as pain or blockages caused by cancer and, in some cases, cure cancer. Different types of chemotherapy work in different ways and have different side effects. It can be administered as a pill, liquid, shot, IV, or rubbed on the skin.
Most cells in the human body divide using a process called mitosis.
When a cell reaches the end of its lifespan, it gets destroyed in a
pre-programmed process called apoptosis.
There are over 200 many types of cancer. All types are a result of
unregulated cell growth. Cells that divide more rapidly than
apoptosis can regulate is simply too much mitosis. The result is
excessive tissue, known as tumors. Tumors can be localized or spread
through the lymphatic system or blood stream.
Many chemotherapy drugs are administered in combinations and work by
interrupting mitosis and most cannot differentiate between abnormal
cancer cells and normal healthy cells. Because of this, any cells
that multiply rapidly can also be affected by chemotherapy.
Fast growing cells are found in hair follicles, lining of the mouth,
stomach, and bone marrow. Since these fast growing sites are also
affected by chemo, the result can be hair loss, decrease in
production of white blood cells, and inflammation of the digestive
tract, etc. Luckily, healthy cells, like hair follicles and the
others usually repair themselves, so hair loss temporary.
Radiation can cause some of the same symptoms, but that story
is for another day.