Chemotherapy is the use of certain drugs that act throughout the body to kill the rapidly dividing cells. As cancer cells are always more rapidly dividing than normal cells, chemotherapy kills cancer cells at a higher rate than normal cells.
Chemotherapy has two important properties to be aware of:
- Chemotherapy is systemic. This means it works throughout the body and does not target specific area such as the prostate.
- Chemotherapy is toxic. This means is causes all rapidly dividing cells in the body to die.
Therefore chemotherapy not only kills rapidly dividing cancer cells in the body but also kills the rapidly dividing normal cells.
Skin, hair follicles, bone marrow cells and cells of gastrointestinal tract are all normal cells that divide rapidly and are therefore affected by the chemotherapy. This is reason why patients undergoing chemotherapy lose their hair, have gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and sometimes have low blood count.
When is chemotherapy used in prostate cancer?
Chemotherapy is not used often in prostate cancer. Rather it is the last option for treatment. However there are two sets of specific circumstances where it is employed.
- Prostate cancer that has stopped responding to hormone therapy is said to be “hormone refractory”. Once the prostate cancer reaches this point, hormone therapy will have only minimal benefit in controlling the growth of prostate cancer cells. Therefore systemic therapy such as chemotherapy is used.
- For advanced prostate cancer that has metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body distant from prostate gland.
Prostate cancer that has reached an advanced stage a has spread far from the prostate to other parts of the body and that which is not easily curable through other treatments like surgery, radiation and other standard treatment chemotherapy has be the last life saving option. In order to treat the cancer wherever it has spread in the body a systemic treatment such as chemotherapy is needed.
Disadvantages of Chemotherapy:
Chemotherapy has more disadvantages than advantages. After each spell of treatment the patient becomes weaker as the whole system of the body is affected. Anemia, gastrointestinal ailments become a part of the patients life. Patients who have reached such a stage of life where potency is not important but just want to live go for chemotherapy.