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Chemo question

Posts: 93
Joined: Apr 2015

Just wondering if anyone knows how long after a chemo infusion is given cancer cells start to die? Is it during the first week when the medicine is in your body or is it the second week when the white cells also go low?

Can you feel the change from first cycle or is it only after a few cycles that cancer recedes?

Kvdyson's picture
Posts: 789
Joined: Jan 2016

Diya, I believe it begins to work immediately but here is what I found from www.chemocare.com:

"The ability of chemotherapy to kill cancer cells depends on its ability to halt cell division.  Usually, cancer drugs work by damaging the RNA or DNA that tells the cell how to copy itself in division.  If the cancer cells are unable to divide, they die.  The faster that cancer cells divide, the more likely it is that chemotherapy will kill the cells, causing the tumor to shrink.  They also induce cell suicide (self-death or apoptosis).

Chemotherapy drugs that kill cancer cells only when they are dividing are called cell-cycle specific.  Chemotherapy drugs that kill cancer cells when they are at rest are called cell-cycle non-specific.  The scheduling of chemotherapy is set based on the type of cells, rate at which they divide, and the time at which a given drug is likely to be effective.  This is why chemotherapy is typically given in cycles.

Chemotherapy is most effective at killing cells that are rapidly dividing.  Unfortunately, chemotherapy does not know the difference between cancer cells and the normal cells. The "normal" cells will grow back and be healthy but in the meantime, side effects occur.  The "normal" cells most commonly affected by chemotherapy are the blood cells, the cells in the mouth, stomach and bowel, and the hair follicles; resulting in low blood counts, mouth sores, nausea, diarrhea, and/or hair loss."

Hope this information helps. Kim


beccabtown's picture
Posts: 234
Joined: May 2016

Hello Diya, it's good to hear from you. I hope your mother's first infusion went well.

I can't add anything to Kim's answer to your questions about how chemo works. If I understand you correctly, you were also asking whether one starts to feel the benefit of the chemo during treatment. My doctors have told me that there's really no correlation between how you feel and the effectiveness of the chemotherapy--that can't be known until scans are done after the course of treatment is completed. Or at least that's what they told me when I asked them whether the relatively tolerable side effects I've experienced so far (knock on wood) indicated anything about whether the chemo was working. It may be different if one has tumors that are causing discomfort--others may be able to address that.


Posts: 93
Joined: Apr 2015

Thankyou kim and rebecca for your responses. Mum's first week on chemo was quite tough. She experienced some strong pain in her chest and went for a checkup. It turned out to be a clot in the large vessel above the heart. So now she is on treatment for resolving it. Her heart rate is very high. The tumours have really affected breathing which is now putting pressure on the heart to over work. She is constantly feeling breathless. Its a very complex situation. All this in first week of chemo. Nervousness is growing each day! Fingers crossed that chemo works and tumours shrink quickly! I was wondering how quickly can someone expect to feel if chemo is working for them. 


Posts: 800
Joined: May 2016

Hi Diya,  I like what the others here have said about chemo and about how a person feels chemo is working.  My doctor does blood work each time i do chemo and the blood work shows a number that is supposibly suposed to tell if the medicines are working at killing the cancer.  I have heard alot of ladies on this forum say to not take that number too seriously because its not always accurate.  My doctor seems to take it pretty seriously.  I find myself just hopeful that the meds are working. And it sure helps me when i know that the medicines have helped other people.  I think about the chemo not working once in  a while but i find it doesnt help to worry about it.  I dont know if that helps, but wish you both the best going forward

Lou Ann M's picture
Lou Ann M
Posts: 996
Joined: Feb 2015

My doctor also does a CA 125 blood test with each chemo.  For some this is not very accurate, but mine were very accurate for chemo treatments.  Very time the numbers rose CT scan would comfiem that the tumors were growing again and when they dropped the tumors were shrinking.  There are many reason to get a false rise in the number like an infection.  We are not sure how accurate it is now as there is no data on how it works with immunotherapy.

Wishing the best for your mum.

Hugs and prayers, Lou Ann

Soup52's picture
Posts: 903
Joined: Jan 2016

My doc does the CA125 each time, but mine always seems to be in the same range 12-13-14-15, so it doesn't seem to indicate much with mine. At my cancer center they have a form you fill out each time and the last question is how well do you think your treatment is working? I kind of laugh because of course I had no clue until I had my post chemo scan.

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