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Essential Insights into Chemotherapy: A Fundamental Guide - CancerMitr


Chemotherapy is often the first line of defence against a horrifying life-threatening disease like cancer. It was developed in the 1940s from a deadly World War I weapon called mustard gas, which was notorious for the way it attacked normal human cells slowly. Despite its origins in warfare, chemotherapy has played a crucial role in advancing cancer treatment, contributing to improved survival rates and quality of life for many patients. More research and refinement of the drugs led to the emergence of modern-day advanced chemotherapy. Bookmark this article to learn more about chemotherapy.

What is chemotherapy?  

Chemotherapy is the process of administering powerful drugs into the human body to target and destroy cancerous cells, either orally or intravenously. 

Unlike the targeted assault of microorganisms like virus or bacteria, cancer arises from the internal rebellion of old and damaged cells. Instead of undergoing the natural senescence process, these cells start to divide abnormally, disrupting the normal functioning of the tissue or organ from which they originate. Therefore, cancer is metaphorically described as a condition where the body turns against itself. What makes cancer uniquely perilous is its potential to invade neighbouring structures and spread to distant parts of the body, creating a complex challenge for medical intervention.

Cancer treatment involves the surgical removal of abnormal cancerous tissue, aiming to eliminate the source of the cellular insurgency. Or, experts can employ powerful drugs that specifically target and destroy cancer cells, arresting their aberrant growth and restoring balance to the affected area.

Also read: From World War I Horror to Cancer Treatment Breakthrough: The Remarkable Journey of Chemotherapy


How does the chemotherapy work against cancer?

Cancerous cells absorb proteins, lipids, and sugar through vesicle-driven pathways for it’s metabolic needs. Just like that, these cells also absorb the potent chemo drugs which penetrate and disintegrate the DNA helix to prevent the proliferation process. Cancer cells absorb the chemotherapy drugs faster than normal cells, and therefore, they disintegrate and shrink. On the other hand, the normal cells undergo cells undergo a reparation process. 

The chemotherapy works for the patient in the following ways;

What are the different types of chemotherapy? 

Chemotherapy drug types depend on it’s function. As mentioned in the above paragraph, chemotherapy involves drugs that target and destroy cancerous tumours by attacking and stopping it’s division process. There are more than 100 types of chemotherapy drugs that may be administered intravenously orally or applied on the visible skin or tumour surface.

Different types of chemotherapy drugs are as follows; 

Alkylating Agents: Alkylating agents are a class of chemotherapy drugs that work by attaching an alkyl group to the DNA molecule, disrupting its structure and preventing cancer cells from dividing and growing.

Antimetabolites: Antimetabolites are chemotherapy drugs that mimic the building blocks of DNA and RNA. By incorporating themselves into the cancer cell’s genetic material, they disrupt the cell’s ability to replicate and divide.

Anti-tumour Antibiotics: Anti-tumour antibiotics are drugs derived from natural sources, like bacteria or fungi. They interfere with the DNA inside cancer cells, inhibiting their ability to divide and grow.

Topoisomerase Inhibitors: Topoisomerase inhibitors are chemotherapy drugs that target enzymes called topoisomerases, which help regulate DNA structure and function. By inhibiting these enzymes, these drugs interfere with the DNA replication process in cancer cells.

Mitotic Inhibitors: Mitotic inhibitors are chemotherapy drugs that disrupt the process of mitosis, the division of cells. They interfere with the formation of the spindle fibres necessary for cell division, preventing cancer cells from multiplying.


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What are the side effects caused by chemotherapy? 

Chemotherapy involves the usage of powerful drugs that can target and destroy cancerous cells. Therefore, it may also affect the normal cells, leading to side effects that may affect a person’s quality of life. 

  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Infection
  • Anaemia (low red blood cell counts)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Appetite changes
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Mouth, tongue, and throat problems such as sores and pain with swallowing
  • Peripheral neuropathy or other nerve problems, such as numbness, tingling, and pain
  • Skin and nail changes such as dry skin and color change
  • Urine and bladder changes and kidney problems
  • Weight changes
  • Chemo brain, which can affect concentration and focus
  • Mood changes
  • Changes in libido and sexual function
  • Fertility problems

People undergoing chemotherapy may find it difficult to work, sleep and consume foods normally. They may have to undergo supportive therapies to overcome the severity of the side effects. 

What are the supportive therapies that can alleviate chemotherapy side effects?

Chemo drugs end up attacking some of the normal cells in it’s attempts to target and destroy cancerous cells. However, the normal cells undergo a reparation process when compared to it’s cancerous counterparts. Cancer treatment does not just involve conventional treatment methods. It also encompasses supportive therapies to help patients deal with side effects and have a better quality of life. Supportive therapies are prescribed based on the type of side effects a person experiences. Various supportive therapies are as follows;

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What to keep in mind before, during and after chemotherapy?

– All cancers cannot be cured, and oftentimes, the patient’s prognosis depends on how well they respond to chemotherapy. After adjuvant chemotherapy, it is imperative for patients to undergo a screening process as part of the follow-up care. Some cancers can be treated without surgery, yet it is imperative to check for cancer’s return. 

– On paediatric chemotherapy, adjusting chemotherapy for children involves tailoring the approach to their developmental stage, including dosage based on size and weight. Paediatric oncologists monitor dosages to balance effectiveness and minimize side effects. Long-term considerations, such as secondary cancers and fertility problems, must be factored into treatment plans for children who survived cancer. 

– In pregnant women, chemotherapy is extremely unsafe during the first trimester, and medical experts usually recommend a medical termination of pregnancy in order to ensure that the pregnant woman is able to get treatment effectively. In 2nd and 3rd trimesters, the organs and tissues inside the foetus have developed effectively. Even then, some chemo drugs can pass the placenta in small amounts. Chemo drugs can also reduce the RBC and WBC levels, which can harm the foetus development. Pregnant women require a multidisciplinary management of their cancer. 

– Chemotherapy is administered when the patient is in the later stages or if the tumour cannot be surgically removed, a process called palliative chemotherapy. The point is to reduce the severity of cancer or delay it’s progress, not necessarily to cure the person of the disease. 

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What are the new trends and developments around chemotherapy?  

– Targeted Therapies: It is a line of treatment that focuses on the tumour alone in order to ensure that the side effects are minimal. There are two types of targeted therapies: small-molecule drugs and monoclonal antibodies. Small-molecule drugs easily enter cells and target internal cellular components. Monoclonal antibodies, lab-produced proteins, attach to specific targets on cancer cells. They can mark cancer cells for immune system destruction, inhibit cancer cell growth, induce self-destruction, or carry toxins to cancer cells. Explore more about monoclonal antibodies.

– Immunotherapy: It works on the principle where the body’s immune system is stimulated to act against the cancerous growths. Immunotherapy has shown a lot of promise recently. 

– Personalized Medicine: Advances in genomic and molecular profiling have enabled a more personalized approach to cancer treatment, which is developed after understanding the specific genetic mutations or characteristics of a patient’s tumour.

– Combination Therapies: Researchers are exploring the effectiveness of combining different types of chemotherapy, targeted therapies, and immunotherapies to enhance treatment outcomes. 

– Nanotechnology: It refers to the application of nanotechnology principles and techniques in the field of cancer treatment. This innovative approach involves the design, development, and utilization of nanoscale materials and devices to deliver therapeutic agents specifically to cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy tissues. By leveraging the unique properties of nanoscale materials, such as enhanced permeability and retention (EPR) effect and surface modifications for targeted drug delivery, nanotechnology chemotherapy aims to improve the efficacy and reduce the side effects associated with traditional chemotherapy. Nanoparticles, typically ranging in size from 1 to 100 nanometers, are engineered to encapsulate or attach chemotherapeutic drugs. These nanoparticles can enhance drug solubility, improve drug stability, and enable controlled release of the therapeutic payload. 

– Liquid Biopsies: Liquid biopsies, which involve analyzing blood or other bodily fluids for circulating tumour cells, DNA, or other biomarkers, are becoming more important in cancer diagnosis and monitoring treatment response. This non-invasive approach allows for real-time assessment of a patient’s cancer status.


In conclusion,

Chemotherapy remains a crucial and effective tool in the fight against cancer, it is essential to acknowledge both its remarkable successes and the challenges it presents. The journey through chemotherapy is undoubtedly demanding, both physically and emotionally, but it symbolizes hope and resilience for many individuals battling cancer. As research continues to advance, we can anticipate further refinements in treatment protocols, minimizing side effects and enhancing overall quality of life for patients.

Ultimately, the strength and courage displayed by those undergoing chemotherapy, alongside the unwavering support of healthcare professionals and loved ones, embody the remarkable spirit of the human will.

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