Chemotherapy and side effects

What is chemotherapy?

The history of chemotherapy is wild. Did you know the age of chemo dates back to World War II? Studies done during that time to try and find a more effective war agent showed that nitrogen mustard (a compound of mustard gas) actually killed cancer cells in the lymph nodes (lymphoma). From there and over the years, new chemo medicines have been used to help treat people with all sorts of cancer.1

Chemotherapy is a medicine that uses natural and artificial chemicals to kill fast-growing cells in your body. Chemo medicines block functions needed for cell growth and replication, which is what cancer thrives on and needs to survive. When a new cell forms, it goes through a process (cell cycle) to become a fully functioning (mature) cell. Chemo medicines target cells at different phases of the cell cycle. Unfortunately, chemo may not know the difference between a healthy cell and a cancer cell, so it usually damages both. Most healthy cells recover from chemo treatment, but cancer cells may not. You can think of a normal, healthy cell as being strong and resilient, where a cancer cell is mutated and more vulnerable.2, 3

Chemo can be used on its own or along with other treatments. It’s often used to:4

  • Help shrink a tumor before surgery or radiation
  • Destroy any remaining cancer cells after surgery or radiation
  • Enhance other cancer treatments
  • Kill cancer cells that have come back or spread

It sounds like a pretty effective treatment, right? Well, any medicine that packs a powerful chemical punch may be pretty effective — but it may come at a price. You know how chemo also kills healthy cells? Well, that’s what may cause side effects (like common hair loss). Let’s get to know the different types of chemotherapy.

Check in with your body each day and be patient with yourself. If you’re having strong side effects, reach out to your doctor to see if there’s anything specific they recommend. Or, if there are other medicines you can take to help relieve your symptoms. Living through chemotherapy treatment and its side effects can be tough. And while you’ll likely have good days and not-so-good days, a positive attitude can be more powerful than you think — for real.