Chemotherapy: Treating Blood Cancer Systemically

07 Mar, 2022

A blood cancer diagnosis is always poorly received by our patients. Here is one thing that everybody must know – blood cancers are treatable. Recent advancements in the field of cancer care have contributed to higher survival rates among blood cancer patients. However, on the patients’ end, it is important to get the diagnosis and treatment right, the first time.

Blood cancers are categorised into three main types - leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. All these cancers affect the production and functioning of the blood cells in the body. In these cases, the normal process of blood cell production is interrupted and instead, uncontrolled growth of abnormal blood cells is triggered. These abnormal cells or the cancerous cells hamper the normal functioning of the blood, such as fighting against infections, supplying oxygen for various organs, and overall growth and development.

Blood cancers are usually treated with chemotherapy, radiation therapy or stem cell transplantation. Of all, chemotherapy is the common treatment method used to treat and manage blood cancers. It destroys cancer cells throughout the body and helps the patients achieve remission.

Why Chemotherapy Works Well for Blood Cancer

Chemotherapy is one of the most reliable methods of treatment for blood cancer as the chemo drugs that are administered intravenously, intramuscularly or orally reach every nook and corner of the body to find the rapidly multiplying cancer cells and destroy them.

Chemotherapy is a systemic therapy, i.e., as a therapy, it treats the entire body system. In other words, the treatment is not localised to one particular organ. The therapy being systemic is important for the effective management of blood cancer, wherein the cancer cells are present throughout the body.

However, in patients who show resistance to chemotherapy or have relapsed after undergoing chemotherapy, specialists may recommend other treatment options like radiotherapy and stem cell transplantation.

How Does Chemotherapy Support Blood Cancer Management?

Chemotherapy may be delivered with a single drug or multiple drugs to reduce the risk of resistance. Chemotherapy could support blood cancer management in many ways:

  • Cure: In many cases, chemotherapy can destroy all the cancer cells up to an extent where they can no longer be detected.
  • Control: In a few cases, chemotherapy is delivered to ensure that cancer does not spread to other organs and progress to advanced stages.
  • Supporting treatment: To enhance the efficacy of other treatments such as radiotherapy and stem cell transplantation, chemotherapy is administered along with these treatments.
  • Palliative Care: In the advanced stages, when blood cancer has spread to other organs, chemotherapy is administered to reduce pain and discomfort among the patients.

The primary intent of palliative chemotherapy is to help patients have a better quality of life till the end.

Chemotherapy is usually given in three different phases for blood cancer patients:

  • Induction: This is a short but intensive phase, and it could last about a month.
  • Consolidation: This is an intensive phase, which could go on for several months.
  • Maintenance: This phase follows the consolidation phase. It is less intensive and could go on for up to 2 years.

What is New in Chemotherapy?

Many years ago, people feared chemotherapy as this treatment destroyed both cancer cells and other healthy cells with fast-growing properties. This led to multiple side-effects, which affected the quality of life among the patients.

Unlike before, today, chemotherapy is made more tolerable and safer for cancer patients. The discovery of newer drugs, innovative approaches like low-dose chemotherapy with a shorter regimen, have all made chemotherapy better and less harmful than ever.

Chemotherapy could be the best possible treatment for blood cancers in certain patients depending on various factors like the stage of cancer, age of the patient and the overall condition of the patient.

The specialists will always thoroughly assess the condition of the patient before recommending the treatment plan that is best suitable for him/her.

Bottom Note:

Cancers are best treated when they are detected in the early stages. This is not any different in the case of blood cancers. Abnormal symptoms such as frequent infections, fevers, sudden weight loss, persistent weakness, etc. should never be ignored.

Early detection and timely intervention are important aspects of successful cancer treatment. These not only help in ensuring that patients are treated successfully but also help in preserving their quality of life, which is paramount in facilitating a normal life for them post-treatment.

This article is contributed by Dr. Sachin Suresh Jadhav, Group Head – Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplant.

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