Side Effects and Challenges of Chemotherapy
There are more than 100 known types of cancer. Genetic and environmental factors are collectively believed to cause this disease. Chemotherapy (the use of drugs with powerful chemicals in them) is one of the most widely used cancer treatments around the world.
In spite of its efficacy, patients undergoing this treatment and their loved ones worry about its side effects. The medical practitioners are however concerned about the challenges before it. This article tries to gain further insight on the topic.
Why Chemotherapy Has Side Effects?
Cell division is a normal process in our body. It is designed in such a manner that old cells after a certain period of time meet their natural programmed death (technically called apoptosis). New cells take their place instead.
Cancer is an ailment which has two malignant features. They are invasion and metastasis. The former feature attacks healthy cells and converts them into rogue ones. The latter spreads the disease to fresh and remote corners of the body after causing destruction locally.
The mechanism of origin of this disease involving conversion of healthy cells into abnormal and malignant cancer cells is yet to be understood. But once they are present in the body, there are several mechanisms adopted by these rogue cells to promote the disease and remain undetected from the natural protection mechanism (or the immune system of the body).
One such mechanism is to duplicate the natural process of cell division. The malignant cells mimic this process but divide in a very rapid and abnormal manner. This abnormality is one of the hall marks of cancerous cells. Chemotherapy drugs target this particular feature of these rogue cells to identify and destroy them.
Unfortunately, rapid cell division, though characteristic, is not an unique feature of malignant cancer cells alone. Specific features which can make them unique targets are yet to be identified by scientists.
There are certain cell types in the body which by their very nature divide rapidly. Chemotherapy drugs are not developed enough to distinguish these rapidly dividing natural cells from the malignant cancer cells. The side effects of these anti-cancer drugs are owing to this particular shortcoming.
Some of the natural cell types which get destroyed along with the cancer cells during this therapy are from the hair follicles (roots of the hairs), bone marrow (soft and spongy central section of the bone) and the digestive tract.
The side effects which follow as a result are hair loss, decrease in the production of blood cells and swelling of the linings of the digestive tract.
What are the Challenges Before Chemotherapy?
This therapy is more effective in treating the aggressive cancer types where the malignant cells divide rapidly. Acute myelogenous leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease are some examples to mention in this context.
After cancer cells attack a portion of the body, they slowly develop into a chunk of malignant cells called the tumor. In younger tumors, cell division happens more rapidly as the mechanism is well regulated and preserved.
As the tumor ages, cell growth by the process of rapid division of already existing cancer cells becomes less regulated. This makes chemotherapy be more effective against younger tumors and less responsive to the aged ones.
Chemotherapy drugs cannot reach at the core of certain solid tumors. Moreover, cell division completely stops in such locations. These anti-cancer drugs prove to be insensitive under such circumstances.
With the passage of time, cancer cells learn to be resistant even to the powerful chemicals of chemotherapy.
Research studies have found certain pump-like structures on the surface of the cancer cells which remove the chemicals of the drug from inside of a rogue cell to the outside reducing its efficacy.