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What Does Chemotherapy Do To Cancer Cells?

By Devika

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to treat cancer. This therapy aims at destroying cells that grow rapidly in the body. Cancer cells have the ability to grow and divide quicker than other cells. A doctor who performs this treatment and is a specialist is known as an oncologist. Most of the time, chemotherapy is used in combination with other cancer-related treatment procedures such as radiation, surgery or hormone therapy.

How Chemotherapy Works On A Cellular Level?

Cancerous tumours are determined by the kind of cell division that happens. Even normal cells cease to divide when they come in contact with abnormally functioning cells. This process is termed as contact inhibition. Cancer cells lack the ability to control the cell division process.

The cell cycle follows the steps in a specific order comprising resting phase followed by the active growing phase and then finally the mitosis or the division phase.

Chemotherapy can kill cancer cells by inhibiting the cell division process. The drugs given during chemotherapy work by damaging the DNA or the RNA that make the cell divide. When these cells do not divide, they ultimately die. This treatment also induces self-death or cell suicide.

When chemotherapy works on cancer cells during the division stage, it is termed as cell-cycle specific, whereas when chemo works on destroying the cancer cells during the resting stage, it is termed as cell-cycle nonspecific.

The way your chemo sessions would be scheduled is based on the kind of cells and the rate at which they divide. The time of chemotherapy is decided based on when the drugs would be most effective. This forms the base for scheduling the chemotherapy cycles.

Chemotherapy can kill cells that divide rapidly. However, it needs to be noted that chemo is unable to distinguish between normal and cancerous cells. Although normal cells, unlike cancer cells, would grow back healthy, side effects are seen when chemo is in progress. The cells attacked by chemo are the blood cells, cells in the stomach and bowel, hair follicles, cells in the mouth, etc.

Due to the effect of chemo on the normal cells, which leads to their destruction, you could have side effects such as mouth sores, diarrhoea, hair loss, nausea, etc.

Anti-neoplastic drugs are used in cancer treatment and these are divided into classes based on the way they work.

How Long Is A Cycle Of Chemotherapy?

Cyclic treatment is such that the treatment is given in multiple cycles where each cycle is followed by a period of rest. Each course of the multiple chemo cycle varies. However, on an average, it ideally consists of four to six cycles.

Individual chemotherapy sessions vary on the treatment plan and differ from person to person. Some sessions might be as long as three to four hours, whereas some might just take about 30 minutes to finish.

Your first consultation with your doctor would give you a brief idea about the treatment plan that would be ideal for you.

How Long Does It Take For Chemo To Get Out Of Your System?

Chemo is usually out of your system a few hours after it has been administered. However, the side effects could last as long as up to six months. Chemotherapy drugs are broken down by our kidneys and liver. These are then excreted via urine, sweat or stool.

However, certain factors can play a role in how long the drugs stay in your body. These include reasons such as:

• Your age
• The other medications in your body
• The kind of chemo you have received
• How well your liver and kidney are functioning

In case there is damage to any organ, the process of drug removal can get slower.

Do All Cancers Require Chemo?

In general, it is understood that chemo is the perfect treatment, especially if the cancer has occurred from a solid tumour. If surgery and radiation serve the purpose of killing and damaging the cancer cells in a particular area, then you might not need chemo.

However, if the doctor sees the need to provide cancer treatment to your whole body, then chemo is the ideal go-to treatment to get rid of this ailment.

Story first published: Tuesday, September 18, 2018, 18:05 [IST]
Read more about: cancer cells chemotherapy