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Systemic Treatment Basics

Imagine you are playing the game where someone says a word, and you have to say the first thing that comes to mind instantly.

For example, if we say: “Happy,” you might say: “Birthday.”

Now its your turn to play! Ready?

“Cancer treatment(TREET-MINT) — Techniques to help eliminate or control a disease.”

Did you just think of the word “chemotherapy(KEY-MOW-THAIR-AH-PEE) — Medication used to treat cancer”? This is what most people think of immediately. But most people don’t realize that “chemotherapy” refers to many types of anticancer treatment, not just a single form. People also associate the term chemotherapy with horrible side effects like nausea, vomiting, and hair loss. You may be surprised to learn that this is now a misconception for most chemotherapy medications. Not all of the medications used today have these severe side effects. Now, most medications have side effects that are mild and more controllable.

line of flowerpots

If you’ve ever visited a garden supply store, you may have noticed there is a large section specifically for weed killer. There are tons of different brands and types, but they’re all weed killers. Some are powders, others liquid. Some products target specific weeds like dandelions or clovers, while others are general plant killers that kill everything growing in the garden.

When it comes to cancer, doctors are faced with the same choices. Doctors refer to their weed killer as systemic treatment(SIS-TEM-IK TREET-MINT) — Techniques targeting the whole body to eliminate or control a cancer. Chemotherapy is a type of systemic treatment, like the general plant killer, aimed at treating your entire garden. Systemic treatment is medication that attacks cancer cells and is used for treating the whole body.

flowerpot by window

Learn the difference between local and systemic treatment in Types of Cancer Treatments.

After a patient is diagnosed with cancer, their doctor will outline a plan that may include systemic treatment. Some patients have a systemic treatment regimen(REH-JA-MIN) — The specific elements or medications guiding a patient’s treatment that’s as simple as taking a pill once a day. Others may have a treatment plan(TREET-MINT PLAN) — A course of action outlining a patient’s care that’s very complicated, with different medications given in different ways.

Medications can be administered:

By mouth = Orally = Per os(PER OOS) — Medication taken by mouth; orally = POMedication taken by mouth; orally; per os
Injected through a vein = Intravenous(IN-TRA-VEE-NUS) — Medication injected into the vein; IV infusion = IVMedication injected into the vein; IV infusion; intravenous infusion = IVMedication injected into the vein; IV infusion; intravenous
Injected into the skin = Subcutaneous(SUB-CUE-TAY-NEE-US) — Medication injected into the skin = SCMedication injected into the skin; subcutaneous or SQMedication injected into the skin; subcutaneous
Injected into the muscle = Intramuscular(INTRA-MUS-CUE-LER) — Medication injected into the muscle = IMMedication injected into the muscle; intramuscular

woman gardening

Each round of treatment is called a cycle(SIGH-COAL) — The block of time needed to complete one portion of the planned treatment that is repeated at a regular interval, and each cycle has a specific length of time, usually counted in days. For example, some patients have a cycle of 21 days. This means that they will receive one round of a specific treatment regimen over three weeks. The days in a cycle are counted starting with the first day a medication is given as day 1 and ending with the last day prior to the next round. Some treatments are given only on the first day every 3 weeks. While others may be given one day a week for 2 of the 3 weeks. (This means you would receive treatment on day 1 and day 8, every 21 days.)

Treatment plans are unique to each patient. Each medication and its combinations have been designed and tested for each type of cancer. The doses are adjusted based on height, weight, kidney and liver function, and side effects. Taking all these factors into consideration, your doctor creates your treatment plan. This includes the way the medications are given, as well as the schedule.

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