Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Can a cancer patient get sicker?"
Can chemotherapy make a cancer patient sicker?
This is a very good question, and you must first understand some general concepts about cancer and chemotherapy before it can be answered. Cancer cells in a very basic sense are normal cells that have mutated or changed such that they lost the ability to regulate cell growth and cell death. The is a continuum of how much mutagenic change has taken place which compares the cancer cells a the state that they are in to "normal" cells. It makes sense then that the farther the cells are mutated from normal, the more "poorly differentiated" the cells are, and (typically) worse the cancer is. Cancer cells then usually have a faster rate of growth and cell division then normal cells do. Most chemotherapeutic agents aim to cause damage to cells as they under division, or try to prevent division altogether. In so doing, they are somewhat selective for the cells that are dividing more frequently, which are mainly the cancer cells. Unfortunately no chemotherapy regimen is perfect, and while the purpose is to kill only the cancer cells, any normal cells that are multiplying rapidly can also be targeted (this is why with some chemotherapies there is hair loss...hair follicles multiply rapidly). Furthermore, the cellular contents of the cancer that are released when the cells die from the chemotherapy can cause a severe immune reaction resulting in very bad illness. So the simple answer is that yes with certain chemotherapies, the patient can definitely get "sicker". If this is a personal question, I would definitely recommend discussing your concerns with your oncologist.
Need more info?See a doctor today
Zocdoc Answers is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.