On average, nearly 600 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer each day, with an estimated 200,000 new cases diagnosed in 2016 alone. Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada and accounts for over 30% of all deaths in the country. The most common forms of cancer in Canada are lung, breast, prostate and colorectal. While cancer typically affects individuals over the age of 50, it can occur at any age. It is important to keep in mind that having regular checkups with your physician is vital for your health and can help in early detection of cancer.
Chemotherapy, commonly referred to as "chemo", is the use of cytotoxic drugs. These drugs work to kill cancer cells in the body and stops them from growing or reproducing. There are various types of chemotherapy drugs available and they will oftentimes be used in combination with one another in effort to lead to a better outcome for the patient. Chemotherapy treatment also reduces the chances of cancer cells mutating and becoming resistant to certain drugs.
The dose, schedule and length of chemotherapy treatment is decided by an oncologist, a doctor that specializes in the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer, and is dependent on the type of cancer the patient is diagnosed with, its stage, the patient’s age, as well as the patient’s overall health. Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles – lasting one or two days and one to four weeks long. The cycle will then be followed by a rest period to allow the body’s normal cells to recover before chemotherapy treatment is once again resumed.
Side effects can occur with every type of chemotherapy treatment. However, not every patient will experience side effects in the same way. The side effects a patient will experience depend on the type of chemotherapy drug administered, how it is administered, the dose, and the patient’s general health. The most common side effects that patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment will develop is fatigue, nausea and vomiting. Fatigue occurs as the result of healthy cells being destroyed and can last throughout the treatment process. Nausea and vomiting can occur within the first several hours of chemotherapy and can last up to 24 hours after, and in some cases even longer. Nausea and vomiting is managed by anti-emetic drugs such as Zofran (Ondansetron) and Aloxi (Palonosetron).
Loss of appetite can also occur in patients undergoing chemotherapy. This is due to the chemotherapy causing temporary changes in smell and taste, making food seem less appealing. Still, it is important to maintain good nutrition throughout your treatment to avoid malnutrition and weight loss. Several patients find that speaking to a nutritionist is beneficial.
Chemotherapy can also affect the cells in the GI tract. This can result in diarrhea that may last as long as 2 weeks. Alternatively, constipation may also occur and can start 3 days after treatment.
Hair loss is also another common side effect of chemotherapy treatment, but does not occur with all chemotherapy drugs.
For a complete list of side effects related to chemotherapy and other information on cancer, visit Cancer.ca. Also be sure to follow Dr. Ali Ghahary on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for continued updates on the latest health news in Canada.