According to recent research, about 10,470 children and 5,480 adolescents will be diagnosed with cancer in 2022 in the United States. As a parent, it can be challenging especially when deciding on the best treatment plan for your child.
When cancerous cells are detected in the body, doctors may recommend surgery as treatment. However, cancer cells can aggressively multiply and cause a recurrence. Depending on the progression of cancer, doctors may advise the use of chemotherapy.
What is Chemotherapy
The American Cancer Society defines chemotherapy as any drug used to treat cancer. Chemo is a non-specific chemical treatment that works by targeting dividing cells, including cancerous cells.
Chemo works by interacting with cell functions that are responsible for the growth and division of cells. It kills or slows down the division of cancer cells.
When is Chemotherapy Used
Doctors decide on the best treatment plan based on the type and stage of cancer, the goals of treatment, and other therapies used.
Doctors may decide to use chemotherapy to either kill cancer cells, control it, or boost the immune system to ease the symptoms. This decision depends on the progression of the disease.
Chemo is also used on late-stage cancer patients to improve their quality of life. Since chemo drugs are effective for different types of cancer, a child with cancer may receive a combination of other medications for the best results.
How do Children Receive Chemotherapy
There are several ways that healthcare providers administer chemotherapy. A health professional will thoroughly explain any recommended treatments, but here is a look at the most common types:
1. Oral Chemotherapy
For oral chemo, drugs are administered by mouth in pill, liquid, or capsule form. The chemo drugs are taken like other drugs and do not hurt during ingestion. It may be possible to administer these drugs at home. If so, your doctor or nurse will train you on how to do this.
2. Injectable Chemotherapy
To administer chemo drugs through injections, a catheter is placed on a vein, artery, or body cavity. The duration of the injectable chemo depends on the type of cancer. It may take a quick jab at times. Other times, a 30-minute drip over several days may be required.
3. Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy
Also referred to as IP chemo, hospitals use this type for certain abdominal cancers. Firstly, cancerous tumors are removed through surgery. Then the chemo drugs are heated to body temperature and used directly on the abdomen to eliminate cancer cells.
4. Topical Chemotherapy
Topical chemo usually involves a drug in cream or ointment form applied directly to the skin. This treatment form is mostly used with certain skin cancers.
5. Intrathecal Chemotherapy
For cancers that affect the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), doctors may decide to inject cancer drugs directly into the fluid-filled space between the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. This type of chemo has been used for some types of leukemia and lymphoma.
6. Intravenous (IV) Chemotherapy
Intravenous chemotherapy is a type of chemo where anti-cancer drugs are administered through the vein. The drug travels through the bloodstream and kills cancer cells. This procedure is done at an infusion center.
What are the Pros of Chemotherapy?
Chemo has proven to be a reliable cancer treatment. Here are the benefits of using these medications:
1. Potential to Cure Cancer
Chemo and other treatment options are methods to cure early-stage cancer. Chemo drugs help by inhibiting cancer growth and killing cancerous cells, helping the patient to live a long cancer-free life.
2. Increase Cancer Survival Rate
Chemotherapy coupled with other plans such as radiation therapy increases the chances of survival. It can be used to improve the quality of life of patients and lower the risk of death. For example, chemo is used to shrink the tumor before surgery in cancer of the lymph nodes.
3. Increase Lifespan
For severe cases of advanced cancers, chemotherapy can be used to help patients live longer to fulfill their desires. When cancer cells keep recurring despite other efforts such as surgery, chemo can help alleviate symptoms and enable the patient to partake in daily activities.
4. Scientifically Evolved Treatment
Chemo has come a long way since its early days. Cancer patients do not have to suffer as much as before thanks to continuous research into chemotherapy drugs. Though the side effects remain a great challenge, chemo has proven effective for cancer treatment.
5. Reduces Chances of Recurrence
Chemo is used to kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery. This helps to reduce the chances of the cancerous cells from growing back. This process is especially beneficial for patients with a high risk of recurrence.
Cons of Chemotherapy
Chemo drugs cause side effects because they might kill healthy cells when fighting tumor cells. Most of the cells affected include the blood-forming cells, hair follicles, and cells in the mouth.
Here’s a look at some of the potential disadvantages of chemotherapy:
1. Ineffective Treatment to Some
Chemo is not always the best choice for all types of cancer and may do more harm than good. It is best to consult with your health provider for the best option for your specific needs.
2. Physical Side Effects
Chemotherapy may cause physical side effects such as hair loss, fatigue, easy bruising or bleeding, and a higher likelihood of infection. Chemotherapy may also affect the digestive tract. This can cause nausea, vomiting, appetite loss, constipation, and diarrhea. This can lead to unhealthy eating patterns in patients.
3. May Cause Discomfort
Chemo may cause discomforts such as sores, shooting pains in limbs, and muscle pain. In addition to complications from cancer, patients may have a hard time enduring the added side effects caused by chemotherapy treatments.
4. Interfere with Other Medications
There are quite a number of drugs that cause complications when used together with chemotherapy. That means that patients have to avoid taking these drugs alongside cancer treatments.
Unfortunately, some medications are essential and must be taken alongside chemo drugs. These medicines include HIV drugs, anticonvulsants, and certain antibiotics.
Weighing Advantages and Disadvantages of Chemotherapy
A cancer diagnosis in a child is a heartbreaking time for any parent. It may be difficult to agree to chemotherapy as a treatment option when the advantages seem to match up with the disadvantages. However, experts agree that chemotherapy as cancer treatment is more effective in children as compared to adults.
To effectively weigh the pros and cons of chemotherapy as a cancer treatment, it is prudent to be well informed. As a parent, there are a number of ways you can be sure of making the right treatment choice for your child.
You can ask your health provider the name of the test or procedure, why your child is having the test, and how this will benefit the treatment process.
Additionally, find alternatives to the test or procedures for comparison, when and how you will get the results, and what they mean for your child’s treatments.
Many online resources can help you stay informed and up to date to know the right questions to ask.