How Chemotherapy Works?

Home / blog / How Chemotherapy Works?
How Chemotherapy Works?

How Chemotherapy Works?

CHEMOTHERAPY, is an aggressive form of chemical drug therapy meant to destroy rapidly growing cells in the body. As cancer cells grow faster than other cells, Chemotherapy is used to treat cancer.

Chemotherapy, is administered with other therapies like surgery, radiation or hormone therapy.

This depends on:

  • the stage and type of cancer one has,
  • ones over all health
  • previous cancer treatments if any
  • location of cancer cells
  • preferences of personal treatment

Though Chemotherapy attacks cancer cells, it can cause side effects. Still it can be used to

  • lower the number of cancer cells in the body.
  • spreading of cancer can be reduced
  • shrink the size of the tumour
  • reduce current symptoms
  • prepare for other treatments bone marrow diseases, immune system disorders like lupus and arthritis.
  • relieve pain at a later stage
  • cure the cancer without other treatments
  • kill cancer cells that remain in the body


Women , who have under gone chemotherapy may lose hair. Fever and infection, low white – blood cell count, dehydration. Can damage healthy cells, Fatigue, vomiting, sores and pain in the Mouth.


CIRCULATORY SYSTEM: Cancer cells grow fast, so chemo drugs kill fast-growing cells. But these drugs affect normal and healthy cells.

Blood forming cells in the bone marrow can be damaged.

Damages hair follicles. Damages the cells in the mouth, digestive tract and the reproductive system, bone marrow cells, anemia, white blood cells.

While taking chemo one should not exposure to viruses, bacteria and other germs.

NERVOUS AND MUSCULAR SYSTEM: Low platelet count may start, due to which nose bleeds, blood in vomit or stools and heavy menstruation. Chemo can also damage the heart by weakening the heart muscle or disturb the rhythm of the heart and can risk for heart attack. If one’s heart is strong heart attack may not occur.

Chemo, can cause problems to the memory so, a person may find it difficult to concentrate. This symptom is called “chemo fog,” or “chemo brain.” With treatment this problem can go away or stay for years. Some reflexes and small motor skills may slow down.

The most common side effect, the digestive system will get effected. Dry mouth, sores on the tongue, lips, gum, or in the throat that makes chewing and swallowing difficult. Metallic taste in the mouth, yellow or white coating on the tongue. One does not feel like eating resulting in weight loss. Loose or hard stools, diarrhea or constipation.

INTEGUMENTARY SYSTEM: Dryness of the skin, itching and rash is possible, sensitivity to the sun may develop. Finger and toe nails may turn brown or yellow. Nails may crack, break or get separated. Hair loss can start within a few weeks of the first chemo treatment.

SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM: Chemotherapy drugs, can alter hormones in men and women. This can cause hot flashes, irregular periods, or sudden menopause. Dryness in the vaginal tissues causing intercourse painful or uncomfortable. This might result in temporary or permanent infertility or birth defects.

In men, it can harm the sperm or sperm count. They too can experience temporary or permanent infertility from chemo. In spite of this many can still have an active sex life.

EXCRETOR SYSTEM: Kidney and bladder cells become irritated or damaged. May result in decrease or increase in urination, swelling of hands, feet, ankles and headache. Urine may turn red or orange for a few days only.

SKELETON SYSTEM: Calcium levels drop so, loss of bone mass resulting in osteoporosis in women more than in men. According to National Institute of Health (NIH), women being treated for breast cancer may have osteoporosis or bone fracture. The most common areas of the body to suffer are spine, pelvis, hips and wrists.

PSYCHOLOGICAL AND EMOTIONAL PROBLEMS: Patients may experience fear, stress, or anxious about their health. Depression, family and financial responsibilities. There are ways to reduce this problem—speaking to the doctor, support groups, massage and meditation.

In spite of these side effects chemo causes, there is a possibility to increase the quality of life during treatment.


A chemo treatment may take a few weeks but, the side effects will go on for days or weeks. So, advisable to prepare oneself before the treatment.

  1. Someone can drive the patient to and from treatments, for emotional support.
  2. Talk to the employer, to go for treatment during your work hours. Many companies give off for the treatment.
  3. The day after the treatment some may want to go home and relax or take a nap, as one may feel tired, so don’t plan any activity or event.
  4. One might experience tiredness or feeling of vomiting, so take help to cook, a helping hand in household work, and to take care of children.
  5. In 48 hours after treatment, drugs will leave the body through urine and vomit. Take doctor’s advice to handle the waste and the precautions to be taken, when one uses the toilet and gets sick.
  6. Mouth sore is common, better to get to clean the teeth through a dentist. Oral care advice can also be taken from the dentist and use a soft toothbrush an alcohol-free mouth rinse.
  7. Should stay hydrated, better to have plenty of low-calorie drinks ready at home. Stock up fruits, vegetables, and high protein snacks like curd.
  8. As a patient might lose hair, if feels shy, wear a wig, a hat or scarf until hair grows back. One need not worry as hair grows back quickly.
  9. Some drugs may cause infection, so avoid picking up dog waste, cleaning dustbins, birds cages and fish tanks. Wash your hands after touching the pets. Take doctor’s advice.
  10. Doctor’s advice is necessary and take precautions as the patient, should not get pregnant during treatment, since chemo drugs can damage the sperm and cause birth defects. Even if one uses a condom or birth control pills, drugs can stay in the semen and vaginal fluids.


Any cancer is given at intervals. Chemotherapy, can be given once a week or for several days, then rest for sometime or weeks. The break gives the drugs time to do their job. Rest also gives the body time to heal and handle the side effects like nausea, hair loss or tiredness. Each set of doses is called a cycle.

Generally, four to eight cycles of chemo, is given to treat a cancer. A series of cycle is called a course. A course can take 3 to 6 to complete – more than one course of chemo may be needed to beat the cancer.

Dosage of chemo is sometimes based on one’s body weight. The more the weight, the larger the dosage. Some drugs take both height and weight into account.

Awareness of Chemotherapy: Many patients feel the need to know about Chemotherapy. They are happy with care taken, but information received is less. So, it is important to educate the patient about chemotherapy. When educated many patients respond positively. Then patients can handle the side effects better at home. Generally, information is shared by healthcare professionals, including nurses, pharmacists and physicians. So, the patient is assessed about the treatment and side-effects of chemotherapy. 50 per cent may not be confident and understanding level of the treatment. But still they are educated.

The main goal of any doctor, is to cure the cancer patient, and ensure a good quality life. So, cases that are detected at an early stage treatment is more effective and there is a greater chance of cure.