Chemotherapy: 8 Common Myths and Misconceptions Debunked


Doctors around the world have been advising chemotherapy to patients since decades for the treatment of different ailments. However, patients are still concerned about the use of chemotherapy drugs and the associated side effects, no matter how effective the treatment turns out to be for them.

Chemotherapy is most often used during cancer treatment. Cancer is a life-threatening disease and the mere thought of being diagnosed with it shakes a normal person terribly, let alone patients who actually get it. Cancer diagnosis at the right time is a key to effective cancer treatment, which is most often delivered through chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy, or targeted drug therapy.

Presumed Chemotherapy Side Effects

Just like any other drug, chemotherapy drugs may have their side effects too. However, the point here is to understand that not all patients experience these side effects. In fact, some of the patients may not experience any of these chemo side effects at all.

Chemotherapy may, in fact, a few healthy cells in the body. The normal cells that are most likely to get affected by chemotherapy drugs include the hair follicles and cells in the bone marrow, reproductive system, digestive tract, and the oral cavity. The effect of the chemotherapy drugs on these areas, however, depends on the type of medicine used and the intensity of treatment.

A majority of people are worried about the type of chemo side effects that they are likely to experience after the treatment. The following are some of the common chemo side effects:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Bruising and infection
  3. Weight fluctuation
  4. Changes in libido
  5. Diarrhea and constipation
  6. Problems related to tongue, throat, or mouth
  7. Mood swings
  8. Anemia
  9. Changes in appetite

Chemotherapy side effects are not as bad as they may seem to a lot of people, and the next sections talk about it a bit more in detail.

Best Hospitals for Chemotherapy Treatment in India

Some of the most popular hospitals for chemotherpay treatment in India include the following:

1. Max Healthcare, New Delhi

One of the most well known and sought after hospitals for Chemotherapy treatment in India is Max Healthcare located in Saket, New Delhi. A whole host of foreign patients from the Middle East, Africa and South American countries visit here. The doctors here are also very well sought after. And the infrastructure is top notch for the same purpose.

This leading hospital for cancer treatment avails several facilities to medical tourists. Free translator, money exchanger, around the clock assistance, visa services, and multi-cuisine food are some of the facilities that Max Healthcare offers.

2. Apollo Hospital, Ahmedabad

Akshay Apollo is not only one of the best hospitals in Ahmedabad but also a prestigious name all across the country for its comprehensive cancer centre. The Oncology Centre of Excellence has a full fledged team for prevention diagnosis, holistic treatment, education and awareness and valuable research wing for Cancer. A team of radiation, surgical and medical experts comprises this wing.

Relatively new, Ahmedabad Apollo Hospitals was only founded in 2003 May, but it has developed a full fledged multi specialty quaternary care hospital in a very small period of time carving its own niche. It has track record of handling 10,000 patients annually and the only hospital in the state of Gujarat with the facility of a 1.5 Tesla MRI scan. It is a large corporate hospital conducting regular transplants of cell and bone marrow. It has track record of achieving 90% success rate in performing critical oncology surgery with great precision.

3. Fortis Hospital, Bangalore

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Among hospitals in Bangalore one of the leading healthcare delivery providers is Fortis Bangalore. It has secured number 2 position in terms of being equipped with the latest technology and being one of the most advanced hospitals in the world. Their 24×7 emergency services and pharmacy services enfold their customers with a sense of security that the duty of health care is now in trusted hands. Not only some of the best doctors and surgeons man the hospital but there are numerous talented visiting consultants who work with Fortis hospital in Bangalore to practice the norms of a third party check up and opinion.

4. Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi

This hospital located in the heart of New Delhi is a reputed multi-specialty tertiary acute care hospital. The hospital has been there for many decades and is known for providing high-end care to patients from almost all specialties.

5. Medanta The Medicity, Gurgaon

It is one of the largest hospitals in India. Located in the heart of Gurgaon, Medanta The Medicity was founded by the top cardiologist in India, Dr. Naresha Trehan. The hospital and its staff cater to the needs of thousands of people every day. Patients suffering from breast cancer and other forms of cancer can trust this hospital blindly when it comes to the quality of services and medical treatment.

Is chemotherapy really bad?

Chemotherapy is not at all bad for any cancer patient. An effective use of chemotherapy drugs results in the elimination of the cancer cells, thus relieving patients of the symptoms that they may be experiencing.

Oncologists are usually pro-active when it comes to the management of chemo side effects. They may employ a few strategies to manage chemotherapy side effects or prevent them from manifesting themselves in the patients after the treatment.

Some of these strategies include the following:

  • Administration of medications before chemotherapy that prevent side effects
  • They try avoiding the use of multiple drugs at the same time that cause similar side effects
  • They keep the chemotherapy drug dosage high enough to kill cancer cells but low enough to affect normal cells

In some patients, however, a few chemo side effects are still observed. These side effects occur only when the drugs target a few rapidly growing healthy cells as well, in addition to the cancer cells. For example, hair follicles are rapidly growing cells that may be targeted by chemotherapy drugs during treatment. This results in hair loss.

But this is just half the truth. To know the facts associated with some of the common chemotherapy myths and misconceptions, read the section below.

Common Myths and Facts

Myth #1: Every cancer patient who undergoes chemotherapy experiences complete hair loss.

Fact: This is a completely false chemotherapy fact that people tend to believe. Not all chemotherapy drugs trigger hair fall in patients as different chemotherapy drugs have separate mechanisms to curb the proliferation of tumor cells in the case of different cancers. There are only a handful of drugs that may trigger hair fall resulting in hair thinning, but never complete hair loss.

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Nowadays oncologists prefer the use of specific targeted medicines as chemotherapy drugs. These medicines are modified to target just the cancer cells while sparing all other types of rapidly dividing cells in the body.

In addition, oncologists specifically identify patients who may experience hair loss as one of the chemo side effects. Such patients are advised to undergo scalp cooling following chemotherapy. This therapy restricts the flow of blood to the scalp for a few hours. As a result, there are fewer chances that the hair follicles will get exposed to the chemotherapy drugs traveling through the blood.

Myth #2: Both men and women are not able to reproduce after chemotherapy.

Fact: This is one of the worst chemotherapy facts that people still believe. Gone are the days when people used to lose their fertility because of chemotherapy drugs. New advances in the field of medical technology now allow patients to conceive successfully after chemotherapy.

The medical oncologists make every effort to retain the fertility of the patient during chemotherapy. In high-risk women, the oncologist may prescribe a few medications before administering chemotherapy drugs to suppress the ovarian function.

In other cases, men and women may be advised to freeze their sperms and eggs, respectively, in a bank prior to chemotherapy. But this is not necessary in all cases. A majority of patients are able to conceive naturally after the treatment is over.

Myth #3: Chemotherapy can be avoided for there are plenty of other advanced cancer treatment options too.

Fact: It is true that there are plenty of other cancer treatment options but nothing works like the way chemotherapy drugs work. Chemotherapy works by either killing the cancer cells or by stopping them from growing any further. There is no other form of treatment that follows the same principle for cancer treatment.

Myth #4: An oncologist advises chemotherapy only in the case of worst cancers.

Fact: This is completely untrue. The reason behind the use of chemotherapy drugs varies from one patient to another. In some patients, chemotherapy drugs are used as an independent cancer treatment, while in others it is used in combination with radiotherapy. But it does not mean that the stage or grade of the cancer is the worst in both the cases and that is why chemotherapy is being used.

Chemo for brain is usually conducted in the cases wherein the patient is scheduled to undergo a surgery for cancer removal. The medical oncologists prefer to administer chemo for brain to shrink the tumor size before the surgery. It makes it easier for the cancer surgeons to remove the complete tumor in a single go during the surgery once the tumor size is shrunk.

Chemotherapy drugs are sometimes administered to keep the patient stable. The need to conduct chemotherapy is, therefore, carefully assessed by the oncologist at the time of preparation of treatment plan. If you have been advised chemotherapy, it does not mean that your cancer is bad.

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Myth #5: Nausea and vomiting are the two prominent chemotherapy side effects.

Fact: General sickness in the form of nausea and vomiting were once the leading chemo side effects. However, this has considerably changed in the last few years. Now patients are prescribed a few medicines just before chemotherapy. These medications work by suppressing chemo side effects such as nausea and vomiting.

Some patients, however, may experience fatigue after a few chemotherapy sessions. Fatigue is one of the most common chemotherapy side effects that accumulate over a few sessions. By the time the patient has attended five to six chemotherapy sessions, they may start to experience this leading chemo side effect.

Myth #6: Chemotherapy drugs are administered through intravenous (IV) infusions that require a hospital stay.

Fact: IV infusion is just one of the modes through which chemotherapy drugs are administered. Not all drugs require the patient to stay at the hospital for IV infusion.

Now a majority of chemotherapy drugs are either taken orally at the hospital or at home. Some of them are applied topically or administered through an intramuscular injection. Thus, there is no need for the patient to stay at the hospital in such cases. Even in the case of IV infusion, patients are nowadays released on the same day once the chemotherapy drugs are successfully administered.

Myth #7: Chemotherapy costs are almost the same for the treatment of all types of cancers.

Fact: Not all chemotherapy drugs cost the same around the world and or within a country. Chemotherapy costs differ from one country to another and from one city to the other.

For example, the chemotherapy cost in India is much cheaper than any other Western country, including the US and the UK. This is because a majority ofchemotherapy drugs are manufactured in India itself. The ones that are not produced in the country are imported from other countries at a highly reasonable cost. The same may not be true about any other country.

In addition, the chemotherapy cost also depends on the type of drug used. The drug use depends on the type of cancer that needs to be treated. Some drugs cost more than the other and therefore, the difference in the price. For example, chemo for brain may cost more than chemo for skin cancer because of the use of a different set of drugs.

Myth #8: Immunotherapy is safer and more effective than chemotherapy.

Fact: Immunotherapy is one treatment that patients look forward to instead of chemotherapy for cancer management. But both these treatments have totally different mechanism of action. The former uses the immune system of the patient to kill cancer cells, while the latter directly kill the cancer cells.

For the same reason, immunotherapy is not so popular as it totally depends on the ability of the patient’s immune system to fight cancer cells. Even clinical studies have not yet confirmed the effectiveness of immunotherapy for the treatment of all forms of cancer.

Chemotherapy, on the other hand, has been in use for decades. It is highly successful in the treatment of cancer and its importance cannot be undermined by any other alternative treatment option, be it immunotherapy or something else.


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