Aug 21, 2015

Cancer and Chemotherapy Facts

Not usually a positive topic, but it is nice to get a few facts and dispel some myths.

There are over 200 different types of cancers and 200 different types of cells in the human body with all of these having the potential to become cancerous. All types are a result of unregulated cell growth. The result is excessive tissue, known as tumors. These tumors can be localized, or they can spread to surrounding areas through your lymphatic system or your blood stream.

Normal healthy cells divide and die as they should. The average number of times normal healthy cells divide is known as the Hayflick Limit. It was named after Dr. Leonard Hayflick, who in 1965 noticed that cells divide a specific number of times before the division stops. The average was between 40-60. If you took every cell in your body, at the time you were born, and accounted for all the cells they would produce and so on, multiplied that number by the average time it takes for those cells to die, you get what is known as the ultimate Hayflick limit, or the maximum number of years you can theoretically live, 120 years.

Chemotherapy, by definition is "a chemical that binds to and specifically kills microbes or tumor cells." It is a drug treatment that uses powerful chemicals to kill fast-growing cells in your body. It is usually systemic treatment, meaning that the drugs flow through the bloodstream to nearly every part of the body. Chemotherapy is generally given in cycles: a treatment period is followed by a recovery period, then another treatment period, etc.

It is most often used to treat cancer, since cancer cells grow and multiply much more quickly than most cells in the body. Many different chemotherapy drugs are available and can be used alone or in combination. Chemotherapy treatments carry risks of side effects, some mild and treatable and others which can cause serious complications.


Most chemotherapy cannot differentiate between abnormal cancer cells and normal healthy cells. Because of this, cells that multiply rapidly can also be affected by chemotherapy. Not all chemo drugs will make you lose your hair. Some people have mild thinning that only they notice and some show no loss. Hair loss includes eyelashes, eyebrows, underarms, legs, and even pubic hair. Whether you lose hair depends upon the medication, dosage, combinations, and individual sensitivity. Hair loss happens because the chemotherapy affects all cells in the body, not just the cancer cells. The lining of the mouth, digestive tract (that is why many have nausea and vomiting as side effects), stomach, bone marrow, and the hair follicles are especially sensitive because those cells multiply rapidly just like the cancer cells.

Chemotherapy can also decrease in production of white blood cells (causing immune-suppressed), and inflammation of the digestive tract. Other areas that can be affected include,
kidneys, liver, heart, and lungs. Luckily, many healthy cells repair themselves during or shortly after therapy.