Chemotheraphy for cancer - what you may not know

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Since we still don't quite know what causes cancer, treatment is not as advanced as one might think.

Some people seem to die of the chemo rather than the cancer (and chemo is not cheap - it costs $5000 per treatment).

When I asked one medical provider about this, his answer was "Cancer isn't a pretty death either".

An oncologist told the husband of a friend, when she had died after being administered "cysplatin" chemo, that 50 percent of people given this type of chemo die. Cysplatin is the same type of chemo given to Lance Armstrong which saved his life.

It's an ongoing dilemma. We have many types of chemotherapy today but they all basically work the same. Cancer cells grow very fast and these chemicals target any fast growing cells in the body (which is why they can also kill the cells your body is growing to renew organs).

Two chemicals are given. One to break up the tumor of fast growing cells and the other to kill the cells so they move out of the body. The problem here is in the moving operation, this can spread the cancer to other organs (and often does).

Radiation is also given for cancer. In radiation, the tumor is targeted but the strength of the radiation may injure surrounding cells.

Lately there are many oral medications which can be given for cancer - these do not cure it but keep it under control for years.  Because of that, some providers consider cancer to be a "chronic Illness".

Whether or not to get chemo should be decided on a case to case basis and probably using several opinions.

Here are some examples:

  • 86 year old with a tiny carcinoma in her lungs (ex smoker). Consensus was she should not have received chemo - lung cancers are hard to reach, and nothing grows very fast in an 86 year old, not even a cancer. She insisted on chemo, finally cysplatin (very strong) and died with several injuries throughout her body

  • 50 year old who got breast cancer (also a smoker) and it spread to the bones. She decided to take chemo every few weeks. This kept her alive for 3 years until her youngest daughter was 17. This might have been appropriate as the daughter was better able to handle her death at the age of 17 and being prepared for it.

  • Breast cancer - seems since birth control and/or abortion may be a large factor in most of these cancers, the best treatment may be to remove both breasts and not take chemo (like Suzanne Somers did - she's alive and healthy today, several years after the cancer)

  • Sometimes chemo is given to "prevent" future cancers - this may be the least appropriate because this type of chemo often injures other parts of the body and may only cut the risks of a reoccurrence of cancer by a small percentage if in fact it cuts the risks at all

  • Chemo for a fast growing tumor like in the brain. This may be your only chance to survive - you are probably stuck with it.

Bottom line - think and decide carefully - make sure you know the possible toxic side effects and that the benefits of any treatment you and your medical provider choose, outweigh the risks.

Current research is on agents which actually target ONLY the cancer and also on using bacteria to look for the cancer. It's exciting research but only in its infancy. If we don't blow ourselves up in the future, these might actually deliver a cure for cancer some day.