Chemotherapy, often referred to as “chemo”, is a type of treatment for cancer that uses medication or a combination of different medications. Ultimately, the goal of chemo is to slow down or totally stop the growth of cancer cells. Sometimes chemotherapy is the only treatment needed, while other times it is used along with radiation therapy or surgery or both.
Chemo is a systemic therapy, meaning that it affects the entire body – in contrast to surgery and radiation, which removes, kills, or damages cancer cells in a particular area. In practice, this means that chemotherapy can be used to eradicate cancer cells that have metastasized (spread) throughout the rest of the body, and not just cells in the original tumor.
Chemotherapy can serve three basic roles: 1) to totally destroy the cancer cells and be a cure, 2) to control the growth and spread of cancer, 3) to ease symptoms by shrinking a tumor, and 4) to prevent disease recurrence. The specific function of chemo depends on the kind of cancer being treated and how far it has progressed.
At Sheba Medical Center, our skilled oncologists are highly experienced in designing the most effective chemotherapy treatments for your cancer. Depending on the particular type and stage of cancer, we decide which drug or combination of drugs to give, and we personalize the dose, the method of administering the chemo, and the frequency and duration of the treatment program.
In keeping with Sheba’s holistic approach to medicine, our doctors also consider how the cancer is affecting your normal body functions, general health, and overall quality of life in order to determine the most appropriate chemotherapy.
Hemato-Oncology Diseases Treated by Chemotherapy
At Sheba Medical Center, we offer chemotherapy for the following types of cancer:
- Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), Adult
- Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Adult + Child
- Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), Adult + Child
- Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), Adult + Child
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL), Adult + Child
- Hodgkin Lymphoma, Adult + Child
- Multiple myeloma, Adult
- Myelofibrosis, Adult
- Leukemia (ALL), Child
- Osteosarcoma, Child
- Retinoblastoma, Child
- Astrocytomas, Child
- Neuroblastoma, Child
- Ewing’s sarcoma or Ewing sarcoma, Child
- Wilms’ tumor, Nephroblastoma, Child
- Glioma, Child
- Medulloblastoma, Child
- Rhabdomyosarcoma, Child
Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy works by targeting cells that grow and divide rapidly – like cancer cells. However, because chemo affects your whole body and doesn’t just target specific areas, it can also affect other fast-growing healthy cells, such as hair, intestines, the reproductive system, bone marrow, and skin. As a result, some side effects may be experienced.
The medical team at Sheba aims to give the high dose of chemotherapy protocol that will treat your cancer while keeping side effects to a minimum. In addition, there are treatments that can be taken to relieve the discomfort associated with side effects. Nevertheless, it is typical to feel tired or ill after a session of chemotherapy.
Other common side effects include:
- Hair loss
- Easy bruising and bleeding
- Anemia (low red blood cell counts)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Appetite changes and weight loss
- Mouth sores
- Pain with swallowing
- Nerve problems, such as numbness, pain, or tingling
- Dry skin and changes in the color of your nails
- Kidney problems, urine and bladder changes
- Mood changes
- Changes in sexual function
- Fertility problems
How is Chemotherapy Given?
When your medical team at Sheba custom designs the most effective treatment program for your needs, the method of giving chemotherapy is also considered. The different options include:
- Injection: a shot is injected directly into your muscle or into fatty tissue just beneath the skin
- Intra-arterial (IA): a catheter or needle is inserted into the artery that is feeding the cancer, and the drugs are delivered via this tube
- Intraperitoneal (IP): the drugs are delivered to the peritoneal cavity (where organs such as the stomach, liver, intestines, and ovaries are located), either during surgery or through an inserted tube with a special port
- Intravenous (IV): chemotherapy drugs flow directly into a vein
- Topical: the drugs are contained within a cream that you rub onto your skin
- Oral: you swallow a liquid or pill that contains the chemo drugs
Chemotherapy may be delivered in cycles, which consist of periods of treatment and periods of rest. The “time off” gives your body an opportunity to produce new healthy cells. Our doctors carefully consider a number of factors when planning the individualized cycle of chemotherapy for each patient, and it is best not to skip a treatment. However, if you experience severe side effects and need to reschedule a session, your medical team will plan a new cycle to help you get back on schedule.
Patient Testimonial: Ivan Egorov’s Chemotherapy Treatment for Leukemia
When Yulia Egorov’s son, Ivan, was diagnosed with leukemia, she brought him from Russia to Sheba Medical Center for treatment. Ivan received advanced chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant at Sheba, and he was cured. It is now seven years later, and Ivan lives life just like other kids.
Read Ivan’s story here