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Adjuvant Chemotherapy  

Cancer can be a very difficult disease to diagnose and treat.  It normally begins when otherwise normal and healthy cells become abnormal and start to grow uncontrollably within the tissues of a particular organ.  Depending on the type of cancer and its stage of development, treatment options can often be very successful at eliminating all traces of the cancer and help the patient to return to a normal and healthy life.  A very common type of treatment involves surgical removal of the cancerous tissues.  This is especially true if the cancer has remained localized and not spread to other parts of the body.  However adjuvant chemotherapy may also be used as a follow-on treatment to help to eliminate any remaining cancer cells and minimize the risk of the cancer returning. 

Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment which entails the use of special medications which are designed to identify, attack and ultimately kill cancer cells.  Most of the drugs work by reacting to cells which exhibit rapid growth rates and then disrupt their growth processes and ultimately kills them. 

The drugs are usually administered to the patient through external sources like taking the drugs orally or through injection or intravenously.  The drugs then travel through the bloodstream until they find the cancer cells and the get to work. 

However in the case of adjuvant chemotherapy, it is not intended to be the primary method used to eliminate the cancer.  If the patient has the type of cancer and stage of development which makes surgical removal practical, this normally occurs first.  If the cancer has remained localized and not spread to other organs, surgical removal is usually the most effective treatment option for most types of cancer. 

Adjuvant chemotherapy is used to “clean up” any remaining cancer cells which may still be present following the surgical procedure.  It has been shown that in order to minimize the threat of cancer reappearing at a later time, all traces of the cancer cells must be removed.  It is not always possible to do so surgically.  Even if the surgeon believes that he has removed all traces of the cancer, some cancer cells may still be lurking nearby. 

So adjuvant chemotherapy is usually a very effective way to find these hidden cancers cells and minimize the threat of a reoccurrence.  However there are some risks and complications which can occur from the type of therapy. 

First of all the drugs work by identifying cells which show abnormally fast growth patterns.  This is an important way to distinguish cancer cells from normal cells.  So as the drugs travel through the bloodstream they find and attack those cells which exhibit this abnormal growth.  The problem is that there are some normal and healthy cells which also tend to grow very quickly.  Examples include hair cells and the cells which line the inside of the stomach. 

So what often occurs is that the anti-cancer drugs can also attack normal and healthy cells.  So in order to help to ensure that as much of the cancer threat has been removed, it is often necessary to destroy healthy cells in the process. 

This causes many of the common side effects and complications from this type of treatment.  These side effects can include falling hair, abdominal pain and discomfort, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. 

However these side effects normally go away once treatment has been completed.  And for many patients the benefit of knowing that steps have been taken to eliminate all traces of their cancer are well worth the discomfort suffered during treatment.