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Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. It works by targeting rapidly dividing cells, which is a characteristic of cancer cells. However, because chemotherapy also affects some normal, fast-growing cells in the body, it can lead to side effects. Chemotherapy can be used alone or in combination with other treatments, such as surgery or radiation therapy, to treat various types of cancer.


How Chemotherapy Works

The primary goal of chemotherapy is to slow down or stop the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be classified based on how they work, their chemical composition, and their interaction with specific types of cancer cells. Some common mechanisms of action include:

  • Alkylating agents: These drugs interfere with the DNA of cancer cells, preventing them from replicating.
  • Antimetabolites: They mimic the building blocks of DNA or RNA, getting incorporated into the DNA or RNA strands and leading to a malfunction in cancer cell growth.
  • Topoisomerase inhibitors: These drugs interfere with enzymes called topoisomerases, which help separate the strands of DNA so they can be copied. Inhibiting these enzymes can cause DNA damage and prevent cancer cells from dividing.
  • Mitotic inhibitors: These agents stop cancer cells from successfully dividing by interfering with proteins necessary for cell division.

Administration of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can be administered in several ways, including orally (by mouth), intravenously (through the bloodstream), intramuscularly (into a muscle), topically (applied to the skin), and intraperitoneally (into the abdominal cavity). The method of administration often depends on the type and stage of cancer being treated, as well as the specific drugs being used.

Side Effects

The impact of chemotherapy on normal cells can lead to a variety of side effects, which vary widely among patients and depend on the type of chemotherapy, the dosage, and the individual’s health. Common side effects include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Increased risk of infection (due to reduced white blood cell count)
  • Mouth sores
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in weight

Targeted Therapy and Immunotherapy

In addition to traditional chemotherapy, newer treatments like targeted therapy and immunotherapy are being used to treat cancer. Targeted therapy drugs target specific genes or proteins that are found in cancer cells or in cells related to cancer growth, like blood vessel cells. Immunotherapy uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer, either by stimulating the immune system to attack cancer cells more effectively or by providing it with components, such as man-made immune system proteins.

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