From ArticleWorld

In a general use of the term, chemotherapy refers to the use of chemical substances to treat disease. It can be applied to the use of antibiotics, the first of which was used in 1909 to treat syphilis.


Use of chemotherapy

The use of chemotherapy as a treatment of cancer began in the 1940’s when nitrogen mustard was used as an anticancer chemotherapeutic. Since then, its use in the treatment of cancer is well-known. Chemotherapy can also be used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, various viral infections such as Hepatitis and to aid in the avoidance of transplant rejection.

How it works

Most of the drugs used for the above-mentioned diseases work by inhibiting cell division, or mitosis. The cells they target are the ones causing damage to other cells and the drugs may even encourage the process of apoptosis or programmed cell death.

Because few drugs are able to target the specific malignant cells, other fast dividing cells such as those responsible for hair growth are also affected.

Chemotherapy is not always effective against all tumors especially those which are more solid and the drug is unable the reach the core. In this case, radiation therapy and/or surgery are resorted to.

Side effects

Chemotherapy is not a pleasant treatment to undergo. Side effects include hair loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. There can also be a suppression of the immune system which may result in the patient contracting potentially fatal infections.

Types of drugs

Basically, all chemotherapeutic drugs affect cell division or DNA in some way. They include:

  1. alkylating – stop tumor growth by directly attacking DNA
  2. anti-metabolites – masquerade as building blocks of DNA and prevent cell development and division.
  3. plant alkaloids and terpenoids – alkaloids derived from plants are used to block cell division.