How Does Chemotherapy Kill Cancer?

Body tissues are made of billions of cells. Once you are a fully grown adult the cells do not divide very often. The main reason for the cells dividing is if the body needs to repair damage in the body. However sometimes cells start to divide, this cell carries on dividing until it has produced a mass we call this mass a tumour. One of the treatments for this is chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy can be administered in several different ways; tablets, capsule, an injection into the bloodstream or a drip into the bloodstream (intravenous infusion). When chemotherapy drugs enter the body they kill any dividing cells they find. Chemotherapy does this by either destroying the control centre of the dividing cells or it will interrupt the chemical process which helps the cells divide.

Inside each cell healthy or not is a dark spot called a nucleus. The nucleus is the control centre of the cell.  The nucleus is made up of genes which contain chromosomes. The cell has to make an exact duplicate of it and then it divides. With cancer this process carries on until it has produced a tumour.

The chemotherapy drug travels around the body and can reach most places. As it travels around it damages cells that are in the process of splitting and cells which are in the copying process. Dormant cells are much less likely to damage through this process but occasionally it may happen.  This is dependent on what chemotherapy treatment you are on. Some patients are placed on a combination of chemotherapy drugs; the aim of this is to kill cells at different stages of duplication. This increases your chance of killing more cells.

Chemotherapy cannot tell a difference between a normal duplicating cell and a cancerous duplicating cell. This means that there are some side affects to have chemotherapy treatment. There are certain parts of the body that naturally keep producing cells. For example hair follicles because your hair continuously grows, your bone marrow produces blood cells, the cells on your skin are constantly renewing themselves and the lining of the digestive system also constantly renew themselves. These cells can often be damaged during chemotherapy.  However once the treatment is complete they will go back to normal. The normal cells in the body can repair and replace the healthy damaged cells.

Chemotherapy treatment cannot be used to kill all cancers on its own. Some cancers require a combination of treatments. An example is; having surgery to remove the tumour and then a course of chemotherapy to clear any additional cancer cells.  However chemotherapy has been very successful in curing testicle cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. On occasion cancer is unable to be cured. If this is the case then a doctor may suggest chemotherapy to aid you and your symptoms. Chemotherapy can be used to; shrink tumours, alleviate symptoms and give you a longer life by controlling the cancer or even putting you into remission.