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Cancer chemotherapy

Related Terms

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Background

  • Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancer. These drugs are designed to kill cancer cells by interfering with their ability to grow and reproduce. Many cancer drugs used today do not specifically attack cancer cells. This means that they not only affect cancer cells but also normal cells in the patients who take them, which is why chemotherapy drugs often produce severe side effects, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, skin problems, and damage to blood and immune cells. Other types of side effects may also occur, depending upon the specific drug used.
  • Chemotherapy drugs, like other drugs, are absorbed by, broken down by, and eliminated from the body through a process called metabolism. Metabolism is the processing by the body of materials from outside the body. Metabolism may make a drug inactive or more active or may turn the drug into a form that can be eliminated from the body in the urine or stool. Metabolism occurs primarily in the liver and is performed by proteins called enzymes. After metabolizing a molecule, proteins in the liver then break down the molecule or attach it to "carrier" proteins that allow it to be eliminated from the body.
  • Proteins have many different functions within the body, including the metabolism of drugs. All proteins in the body are created based on instructions from genes. A gene is made of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and serves as a map for the creation of proteins. Some parts of DNA are not genes, and do not give instructions for making proteins. These parts of the DNA control the genes and determine how active it is. A more active gene will create a more active protein, whereas a less active gene will create a less active protein. If this occurs in a gene that makes a protein involved in drug metabolism, a person may metabolize a drug more slowly or quickly than normal. This means that the drug may stay in the body for a longer or shorter period of time.
  • The DNA found in any two individuals is 99.9% identical, which leaves 0.1% for genetic individuality. Differences present in a gene are called alleles, or polymorphisms. These differences may result in genes that create proteins with more or less activity than others. If this happens in a gene that codes for a protein involved in drug metabolism, an individual may not be able to process a drug normally.
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Methods

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Research

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Implications

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Limitations

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Safety

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Future Research

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Author Information

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References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.