Cytostatics, which destroy cancer cells, play a central role in the type of cancer treatment known as chemotherapy. Cytostatics are administered intravenously or in tablet form and are carried in the blood circulation to all parts of the body. Cytostatics act in a variety of ways, but all of them are aimed at destroying cancer cells by inducing changes in the cells’ genes or metabolism. Cytostatics affect all dividing cells in the body. Cancer tissue usually has a considerably higher cell division rate than normal tissue, and cancer cells are therefore exposed to significantly greater damage.
Cytostatic chemotherapy is repeated at regular intervals to ensure that the cancer tissue does not recover between treatments while healthy tissue does. As a result, the number of cancer cells decreases with each treatment cycle. If they are few in number (e.g. the small number of cancer cells remaining after surgical tumour removal), the patient may be completely cured of cancer.
The duration of cancer chemotherapy varies individually depending on whether the patient is receiving adjuvant therapy following surgery or radiotherapy, or whether the cancer is metastatic and has spread to other organs. In the former case, cancer chemotherapy typically lasts 4 to 6 months.
In cancer treatment the results are closely monitored by means of imaging (radiological scans). With some cancers, tumour biomarkers may be measured from a blood sample. The levels of biomarkers in blood vary depending on cancer activity.
In practice, intravenous chemotherapy is usually repeated every three weeks. However, in some cases treatment may be given as often as once a week. Each cytostatic agent is administered in a manner that experience has shown to be safe. Administration takes anything from 30 minutes to several hours. Treatment is often closely accompanied by a combination of premedications used to reduce adverse effects. Intravenous fluid administration is also common.
At Docrates Cancer Center, cancer chemotherapy is administered by experienced and specially trained nurses under the immediate supervision of a physician. The nurses also provide patients with information and guidance. They monitor the patient’s condition between treatments and answer any questions, for example on how to alleviate the adverse effects of chemotherapy.