different Types of Cancer Therapy
Though chemotherapy is tossed around frequently in discussions regarding cancer treatments, it’s actually just one of several types of options for those undergoing therapy. Depending on the type of treatment you are receiving, you may experience different effects than others.
“Chemo,” or “chemotherapy,” refers to medicines and drugs that are used to treat cancer symptoms. This range of drugs used to relieve and extinguish symptoms varies greatly. Some of these drugs are cytotoxic, meaning they target and kill cancer cells. These drugs are typically referred to as traditional or standard chemotherapy.
Depending on the severity of the cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy drugs can be used as the primary treatment rather than surgery or more intense therapy. Each of these drugs comes with different side effects, including loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea/vomiting, and constipation. They can be administered in a variety of forms, such as pills, infusions, creams, and shots.
Because chemotherapy drugs attack fast-growing cancer cells, they can also cause normal cells, such as skin cells and hair follicles, to grow at a rapid pace as well. Many cancer institutes and centers offer oncodermatology clinics for patients experiencing skincare concerns so that they may access immediate treatment and guidance on how to combat the side effects.
Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that focuses on the immune system in order to fight cancer cells. A type of biological therapy, immunotherapy uses substances made from living organisms to treat the condition. There are various types of immunotherapy to be administered depending on the type of cancer and severity, such as immune checkpoint inhibitors and T-cell transfer therapy, and immune system modulators.
Side effects of immunotherapy depend on a variety of factors, some of them pre-existing, including your overall health prior to cancer treatment. Flu-like symptoms may occur, as well as swelling, soreness, rashes, and itchiness.
This form of cancer therapy involves targeting the proteins that determine how cancer cells grow, divide, and ultimately spread throughout the body. Small molecular drugs are sometimes used due to their size and effectiveness at entering the cells. Therapeutic antibodies, on the other hand, are proteins produced in a lab that is designed to attach to certain targets on cancer cells. Depending on the monoclonal antibodies, they either work to cease cancer cell growth or make them more visible to be destroyed by the body’s immune system.
This form of cancer treatment is known to cause some skin irritation, such as rashes and itchiness. Other side effects associated with targeted therapy range from fatigue, sores on the mouth, and loss of hair color.
Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, utilizes high doses of radiation to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumor growth. This is a common form of cancer therapy, as we often experience low doses of radiation when receiving X-ray exams.
Contrasted to cancer treatment, this form of therapy focuses on damaging the DNA of cancer cells in order to successfully remove them. However, this process is not instantaneous. It can take days or even weeks before the cancer cells die. As the months go on, the remaining cancer cells continue to die off even after treatment has finished.
Despite the many benefits of radiation therapy, there tend to be many common side effects of the treatment. While some symptoms from the radiation are more well-known, such as urinary issues and hair loss, your skin can become affected by the radiation the body is undergoing. These skin concerns can include dryness, flakiness, peeling, itching, and discoloration, to name a few.
Also commonly known as a “bone marrow transplant,” this treatment is often an option for those who are suffering from immune system diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. Depending on where the stem cells themselves originate from, this procedure may also be referred to as a “peripheral stem cell transplant” or “cord blood transplant.”
Stem cells are generally found in the bone marrow, which is the sponge-like center of the bones. Here, they divide to form new blood cells. They leave the bone marrow and enter the bloodstream upon maturing. Peripheral blood stem cells also enter the bloodstream during this process, which are cells that are not yet matured. The reason stem cells are so vital to our health is that they help create red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. We all need a bit of each of these cells in order for our bodies to remain healthy and in balance.
When a patient undergoes stem cell therapy, their bone marrow cells are replaced with those that have not been affected by cancer cells or radiation and chemotherapy. By transplanting these stem cells, physicians are able to use higher doses of chemo treatment to rid the body of cancer cells, allowing the new cells that have been transplanted to grow into healthy, mature blood cells.
As efficient and remarkable as this process is, it also tends to come with its own side effects. Doctors often prescribe patients with anti-nausea medication prior so that it is easier to avoid symptoms of nausea and vomiting, which are common with those who undergo chemotherapy and other forms of cancer treatments. Other unwanted effects of the treatment may also include skin conditions such as itchiness, dryness, and rashes.