In addition to radiation and surgery, chemotherapy is one of three treatment options that can be used to treat cancer. It is especially important for leukemia and lymph node cancer, but it is also used in other cancers. Chemotherapy is often associated with side effects such as hair loss or nausea and vomiting. The extent to which side effects occur depends on the type and dosage of the cytostatic agents used. Learn more about the effects, course and side effects of chemotherapy.
What is chemotherapy?
The term chemotherapy generally summarizes all drug treatments that prevent cells from growing or causing them to die. Today, however, the term is used almost exclusively in the context of cancer. If a malignant tumor is present, it is combated in the context of chemotherapy with the help of so-called cytostatics. These drugs help prevent the cancer cells from sharing and dying.
Chemotherapy is particularly effective in cancers that are not localized but in which the cancer cells have spread throughout the body. This is the case, for example, with leukemia or lymphatic cancer. The treatment may be useful under certain conditions but also in various other forms of cancer, such as breast cancer, lung cancer or colon cancer.
Surgery and radiotherapy
In addition to chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery are two more treatment options available. They are among the local treatment options, as their effect is limited to a specific body region. In contrast, chemotherapy is a systemic therapy.
Systemically, the drugs work their effect throughout the body. Therefore, chemotherapy is first used for cancers such as leukemia or lymph node cancer that can not be treated locally. For other types of cancer, it is mainly used when the cancer has possibly or safely spread and metastases have formed.
In a few tumor types, chemotherapy can also be used locally. Then the drugs are injected high-dose directly into the blood vessel, which supplies the affected organ. So that the cytostatics do not reach the rest of the body from there, some of the blood vessels are temporarily disconnected.
Adjuvant, additive and neoadjuvant chemotherapy
Often, chemotherapy is not used alone, but in conjunction with surgery, radiation, or both. This is the case with adjuvant, additive and neoadjuvant chemotherapy:
- Adjunct chemotherapy: adjuvant chemotherapy is performed following surgery to completely remove the malignant tumor. Its purpose is to prevent any cancer cells (micrometastases) remaining in the body from further multiplying, leading to a renewed outbreak of the cancer.
- Additive chemotherapy: If not all tumor tissue could be removed by surgery, additional chemotherapy will be used. This should reduce the size of the tumor and prevent further spread of the cancer.
- Neoadjuvant chemotherapy: If a tumor can not be completely removed due to its size, neoadjuvant chemotherapy is used. The aim of the treatment is to reduce the size of the tumor so that subsequent surgical removal is possible.
Curative and palliative chemotherapy
Depending on the stage of the tumor, chemotherapy may have different goals. If complete healing of the affected person is possible, this is called curative therapy.
On the other hand, if the cancer is already too advanced, only palliative treatment is possible. Here, chemotherapy plays an important role in, for example, advanced breast cancer, colon cancer or lung cancer. It is designed to help reduce metastases and slow the progression of the disease. In addition, the treatment should extend the life expectancy of the patient and improve his quality of life.
It should be noted in a palliative treatment that the side effects of chemotherapy are lower than those complaints that would cause the cancer untreated.