Table of contents:
- White or red chemotherapy: what's the difference?
- How chemotherapy is done
- Main side effects
- Chemotherapy FAQ
Chemotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that uses drugs capable of eliminating or blocking the growth of cells that multiply rapidly, such as cancer cells.
However, these drugs are carried through the bloodstream to all parts of the body, which ends up causing them to also affect he althy cells in the body, especially those that multiply more frequently, such as those in the digestive tract, hair follicles and blood. In this way, it is common for side effects such as nausea, vomiting, hair loss, weakness, anemia, constipation, diarrhea or mouth sores, for example.
However, not all chemotherapies are the same, there is a wide variety of drugs used, which can cause more or less effects on the body. The type of medication is decided by the oncologist, after evaluating the type of cancer, the stage of the disease and the clinical conditions of each person.
White or red chemotherapy: what's the difference?
Popularly, some people talk about differences between white and red chemotherapy, according to the color of the drug. However, this differentiation is not adequate, as there are many types of drugs used for chemotherapy, which cannot be determined by color alone.
In general, as an example of white chemotherapy, there is the group of drugs called taxanes, such as Paclitaxel or Docetaxel, which are used to treat various types of cancer, such as breast or lung cancer, and cause A common side effect is inflammation of the mucous membranes and a decrease in the body's defense cells.
As an example of red chemotherapy, we can mention the group of Anthracyclines, such as Doxorubicin and Epirubicin, used to treat different types of cancer in adults and children, such as acute leukemia, breast, ovarian, kidney and thyroid, for example, and some of the side effects caused are nausea, hair loss, abdominal pain, in addition to being toxic to the heart.
How chemotherapy is done
To perform chemotherapy there are more than 100 types of drugs used, whether in pill, orally, or injectable, which can be administered through a vein, intramuscularly, under the skin or inside the spine, for example. In addition, to facilitate the doses in the vein, a catheter can be implanted, called intracath, which is fixed to the skin and avoids repeated stings.
Depending on the type of drug used to treat cancer, doses can be daily, weekly or every 2 to 3 weeks, for example. This treatment is usually done in cycles, which usually last a few weeks, followed by a period of rest to allow the body to recover and for further assessments to be made.
Main side effects
The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the type of drug, the dose used and the response of each person's body, and in most cases they last a few days or weeks, disappearing when the treatment cycle ends. Some of the more common side effects include:
- Hair and other body hair loss;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Dizziness and weakness;
- Constipation or diarrhea and excess gas;
- Lack of appetite;
- Mouth sores;
- Changes in menstruation;
- Brittle and dark nails;
- Spots or changes in skin color;
- Recurrent infections;
- Decreased sexual desire;
- Anxiety and mood swings such as sadness, melancholy, and irritability.
In addition to these, it is possible to have side effects of long-term chemotherapy, which can last for months, years or even be permanent, such as alterations in the reproductive organs, cardiac, pulmonary, hepatic and nervous system alterations, for example, but it is important to remember that side effects are not manifested in the same way in all patients.
Chemotherapy can bring many doubts and insecurities. We have tried to clarify, here, some of the most common:
1. What kind of chemotherapy will I have?
There are numerous protocols or chemotherapy regimens, which are prescribed by the oncologist according to the type of cancer, the severity or stage of the disease and the clinical conditions of each person. There are regimens with daily, weekly or every 2 or 3 weeks doses, which are done in cycles.
In addition, it is important to remember that there are other treatments that can be associated with chemotherapy, such as tumor removal surgery, or radiotherapy, procedures that use radiation emitted by a device to eliminate or reduce the size of the tumor.
Thus, chemotherapy can also be divided into:
- Curative, when by itself it is capable of curing cancer;
- Adjuvant or Neoadjuvant, when performed before or after surgery to remove the tumor or radiotherapy, as a way to complement the treatment and seek to eliminate the tumor more effectively;
- Palliative, when it has no curative purpose, but acts as a way of prolonging life or improving the quality of life of the person with cancer.
It is important to remember that all people who undergo cancer treatment, including those who can no longer achieve a cure, deserve treatment to have a dignified quality of life, which includes the control of physical symptoms, psychological and social, as well as other actions. This important treatment is called palliative care, learn more about it in what palliative care is and who should receive it.
2. Will my hair always fall out?
There will not always be hair loss and hair loss, as it depends on the type of chemotherapy used, however, it is a very common side effect. Generally, the hair loss happens about 2 to 3 weeks after the beginning of the treatment, and it usually happens little by little or in locks.
It is possible to minimize this effect with the use of a thermal cap to cool the scalp, since this technique can reduce the blood flow to the hair follicles, reducing the uptake of the medication in this region. In addition, it is always possible to wear a hat, scarf or wig which helps to overcome the discomfort of going bald.
It is also very important to remember that hair grows back after the end of the treatment.
3. Will I feel pain?
Chemotherapy itself does not usually cause pain, except for the discomfort caused by the sting or a burning sensation from the application of the product. Excessive pain or burning should not happen, so it is important to notify the doctor or nurse if this happens.
4. Will my food change?
It is recommended that the patient undergoing chemotherapy prefer a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, seeds and whole grains, giving preference to natural foods instead of industrialized and organic foods, as they do not have chemical additives.
Vegetables must be washed and disinfected well, and only in some cases where there is an excessive drop in immunity, the doctor may recommend not eating raw foods for a period.
In addition, it is necessary to avoid meals rich in fat and sugar immediately before or after treatment, as nausea and vomiting are frequent, and to reduce these symptoms the doctor may recommend the use of medication, such as Metoclopramide. See other food tips on what to eat to lessen the side effects of chemotherapy.
5. Will I be able to maintain my intimate life?
It is possible that there are changes in intimate life, since there may be a drop in sexual desire and a decrease in disposition, but there are no contraindications for intimate contact.
However, it is very important to remember to use condoms to avoid not only sexually transmitted infections during this period, but above all to avoid pregnancy, as chemotherapy can cause changes in the baby's development.