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How Does Chemotherapy Work?

How Does Chemotherapy Work?

Chemotherapy is one of the most common — and effective — treatments for cancer. The goal of chemotherapy is to destroy cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy cells. 

Elvira Klause, MD, FACS, and our team specialize in oncology in Laguna Hills, California. We’re here to help patients and their families understand their treatment options and find the best treatment for their needs.

In this blog, we discuss how chemotherapy works and the benefits of combining chemotherapy with surgical oncology to treat cancer.
How chemotherapy treats cancer
Cancer cells divide and multiply quickly. Chemotherapy drugs work by targeting and killing these rapidly dividing cells to stop cancer from spreading.

Chemotherapy drugs can be administered orally or intravenously, and they circulate through your bloodstream to reach cancer cells throughout your body. Once the drugs reach the cancer cells, they interfere with the cells' ability to divide and grow, ultimately making them die.

While chemotherapy drugs are effective at killing cancer cells, they don’t discriminate between cancer cells and healthy cells. 

So treatment can also damage healthy cells that divide rapidly, like those in your hair follicles, digestive tract, and bone marrow. That’s why some of the most common side effects of chemotherapy are hair loss, nausea, and a weakened immune system.
Combining chemotherapy and surgical oncology
In many cases, oncologists combine chemotherapy with other cancer treatments, including surgical oncology. Surgical oncology involves removing cancerous tissues or tumors, and it’s a common treatment option for breast cancer, skin cancer, lung cancer, and colorectal cancer.

Depending on your situation, Dr. Klause may recommend chemotherapy before or after surgery. Chemotherapy before surgery (neoadjuvant therapy) can shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove. 

Chemotherapy after surgery (adjuvant therapy) helps kill any remaining cancer cells to reduce the risk of the cancer returning.

Combining chemotherapy and surgical oncology is called multimodal therapy, and it can significantly improve outcomes for patients because it targets cancer cells in multiple ways. 

While both chemotherapy and surgical oncology can be effective treatment for cancer, effectiveness of the treatment can vary depending on the type and stage of cancer you have. Dr. Klause and our team work closely with you to determine the best course of treatment for your individual needs.
Navigating chemotherapy treatment
Unfortunately, chemotherapy can have some serious side effects. If you or a loved one is undergoing chemotherapy, there are strategies to help manage your overall well-being during treatment.
Stay hydrated
Chemotherapy can cause dehydration, so drink plenty of water and other fluids to stay hydrated.
Eat a balanced diet
Eating a healthy, balanced diet supports your immune system and reduces your risk of infection during treatment.
Exercise regularly
Chemotherapy can cause fatigue, but regular exercise can help increase energy levels and improve your overall health during chemotherapy. Talk with your cancer care team to find safe exercise options for you.
Manage side effects
If you’re dealing with side effects like nausea, fatigue, and pain, talk to your cancer care team. We’re here to help you find medications and other strategies to manage side effects and help you feel better.
Seek support
Chemotherapy can be both emotionally and physically challenging. To make it easier on yourself, seek support from friends, family, or a cancer support group.

Chemotherapy is one of the most effective cancer treatments available, but it’s normal to have questions about what it entails and what you can expect. To learn more about your cancer treatment options, schedule a consultation with Dr. Klause today. Call our office or request an appointment online.

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