Chemotherapy treatment is practically synonymous with cancer treatment. Chemotherapy, commonly shortened to chemo, is one of three main, conventional methods of cancer treatment. While this powerful drug can help you eradicate cancer or at least keep it at bay, its potency can also affect other healthy areas of your body.
Chemotherapy consists of drugs that can be administered orally or through an injection. Regardless, the drugs reach your bloodstream, where they travel throughout your body fighting cancerous cells. Because chemo is actually a whole-body treatment, it is also called systemic medication.
It is difficult for your body’s immune system to attack and fight cancerous cells because these cells come from within your own body. They carry special “self” tags that the immune system recognizes as harmless cells. Chemotherapy, on the other hand, simply attacks all cells that grow and divide rapidly, one of the signs of a cancerous tumor. At the same time, however, the chemo can also target your body’s cells that grow and divide at this same rapid rate, like hair follicles, gastrointestinal cells, and others. This is why a person who goes through chemo treatment often experiences hair loss, nausea, and vomiting after a round of chemotherapy.
Because not all tumors grow at the same rate, doctors and oncologists can customize your chemo cocktail with drugs that target specific growth rates or growth patterns. However, as with traditional chemo, each of these drugs will also harm your body’s own cells that fit the same patterns.
With chemo, it is important for you to eat healthy and remain strong because its side effects can actually leave you weaker than before treatment. Besides hair loss, nausea, and vomiting, other side effects of this powerful treatment include:
- Low white blood cell count
- Decreased red blood cell count
- Low platelet count
One danger of decreased white blood cell count is an increased risk of infection. Because white blood cells help you fight pathogens, chemotherapy can interfere with your body’s ability to protect itself from infections. Your doctor must carefully devise a chemo regimen that hits cancerous cells as hard as possible while still trying to protect your own healthy cells.