Chemotherapy has been one of the key modalities of treatment of cancer and in the last 3 decades has witnessed drastic improvements in both safety and efficacy of the therapeutic agents. We still harbor some of the older beliefs that have now taken shape of myth. Below are some of the common myths and their counter truth.
Chemotherapy is used in end-stage cancer only.
Chemotherapy is used in a spectrum of settings- from preventive, as add-on(adjunct) therapy and in regimen for treating cancer recurrence. So, your doctor would be able to precisely tell you the purpose of the chemotherapy and the severity of the chemotherapeutic drugs used and how they can help you get better.
Chemotherapy is added sickness and endless nausea.
Vomiting and Nausea do continue to be one of the commonest side-effects but, not all will suffer from them. Moreover, depending upon your tolerance levels your doctor would be able to alter the regimen in terms of dose and choice of chemotherapeutic agents. Newer medications have fewer side-effects and better efficacy, while we have much more potent antiemetic agents, specifically for countering severe nausea experienced in cancer chemotherapy.
If I dont feel sick after chemo, chemo is not working.
We start to falsely believe that side-effect and severity of side-effect to be an indicator of how well the medication is working. Scientists have not been able to break the code as to why some manifest and other do not experience side-effects in the same magnitude. As long as you are taking chemotherapy, the agents will continue to work, protecting and healing you from cancer.
Chemotherapy always leads to hair-loss.
Chemotherapeutic agents do cause thinning of hair and hairloss, but not for all. For those who experience hair-loss, they can be assured that this will grow back soon after the chemo is complete. The re-growth will happen at 0.25 to 0.5 inches per month.
Cancer is my destiny and karma, no intervention will deliver me out.
Though it sounds philosophical, when it comes to saving lives, chemotherapy is one of the option to save your life, not just prolong life.
It is not possible to have children after chemotherapy.
The physician would ensure your wishes of able to have children after chemotherapy are addressed through advanced birth options are adopted prior to administering chemo or radiotherapy. Egg harvesting for women and sperm preservation will help achieving your aspiration for children- speak to a reproductive medicine specialist and have your options open.
Immunity is compromised during chemo
Immune system is in the interphase between the cancer cell and chemotherapeutic agent. Though there is a high risk of infections due to decreased white cell count, it has to be noted that this is temporary and not significant to loss your immune mechanisms. There are no scientific evidence that the impact on immunity is long lasting and patients will be vulnerable to infection all through their life.
Immunotherapy has now replaced chemotherapy
Chemotherapy targets cancer cells and stops its growth and differentiation. Chemo still continues to be the mainstay treatment protocol as it is supported with a strong clinical data. Immunotherapy is relatively new, though promising, act by boosting your immune system to counter cancer. Immunotherapy is yet to be established as a standalone treatment, however now plays an adjuvant role.
Ayurveda and other forms of medicine can help reduce the severity of chemotherapy.
There are no sufficient evidence to see if these alternative forms of medicine have an impact in improving the final outcome.
Dr. C. N. Patil,
Apollo Hospitals Bannerghatta Road, Bangalore