Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Chemotherapy is a way to treat cancer

  1. Apr 1, 2005 #1
    Chemotherapy is a way to treat cancer with very powerful medications. My friend Melissa, God rest her, had Burkets Lymphoma, they treated her with chemo. She had this long, I mean down to her butt long, natually blonde tight ringlet hair. She lost it all. Why does chemo make the person being treated lose their hair? Can chemo be used to treat other disease other than cancer?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 1, 2005 #2
    with chemotherapy, you are essentially poisoning the cells with cytotoxins. The chemicals used aren't very discriminating and don't know a healthy cell from a tumour cell, so the principle behind chemotherapy is to kill the tumour cells before you kill the normal cells. Tumour cells reproduce quickly, so they take up more of the chemicals than normal cells (and hopefully die faster than the normal cells). Unfortunately, some types of normal cells also reproduce quickly, such as those that produce hair and the ones that line the GI tract.

    chemo is a pretty harsh therapy on the body, so it's not really something you want to use if there's a better one around.
  4. Apr 2, 2005 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Chemotherapy is actually, the use of drugs or medications to treat disease. The term comes from two words that mean "chemical" and "treatment." So even taking an aspirin is chemotherapy. So this actually answers your second question, "Can chemo be used to treat diseases other than cancer? Yes, all pharmaceutics used in treating diseases is chemotherapy.

    I know when we hear of the word chemotherapy, we usually think of it in context of treating cancer.

    To read more about the history of chemotherapy see --->
    http://www.cancer.org/docroot/ETO/content/ETO_1_4X_What_Is_Chemotherapy.asp?sitearea=ETO [Broken]

    As imabug points out, chemotherapy can poison cells with cytotoxins.
    Loss of hair or alopecia, that is induced by chemo is thought to result from cytotoxic intrafollicular apoptosis :surprised
    (damage to the hair follicle)
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  5. Apr 2, 2005 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Alopecia, the loss of hair, can be prevented by wearing a cold cap during chemotherapy. The coldness shuts down the capillaries in the skin of the head, thus the medication can't reach the hair follicels.

    A major drawback is that metastasis in that area are not treated, so there is a certain chance that a new tumor will arise.
  6. Apr 2, 2005 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Anti-cancer drugs are similar in structure to DNA nucleotides. Thus they interfere with transcription/replication. Check out methotrexate, a common chemotherapy. The chemical structure will look like DNA! You know the bit about penicillin? It too looks like some normally occurring chemical in a bacteria, thus same dif. Lots of mimicry in biochemistry, you know, even if a molecule just looks kinda like the natural substrate it will kinda work although not as efficient as the real one. Wonder why I majored in Chemistry?
  7. Apr 2, 2005 #6
    Would the hair eventually grow back thought after it has been cured (for the moment, that is) ?
  8. Apr 2, 2005 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    They are used to treat many autimmune diseases such as Lupus nephritis. Methotrexate is mainstay in treating rheumatoid arthritis. (However much much lower doses are used and the persond doesn't get the hairloss etc.) Psoriasis uses chemotherapy drugs, one of which is also methotrexate. The list goes on.

Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook