By Kasmiah Mustapha
These are some reasons why they take time to consider or even refuse such treatment. Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur consultant medical oncologist Dr Christina Ng wants to set the record straight about chemotherapy. She says some of the misconceptions are that chemotherapy will kill healthy cells and will cause more damage, that certain food will accelerate cancer growth and that alternative medicine works better in treating the disease.
"Yes, chemotherapy will harm healthy cells but these are cells that have a high turnover. Your body will regenerate these cells because it is a normal process. It does not mean that when the cells are destroyed, you won't have them anymore."
As for alternative medicine, there are no clinical trials done to support the theory. However, if patients insist, she will only encourage them to do so after chemotherapy to avoid negative interaction between the two.
But she will encourage her patients to try activities that can help them cope with chemotherapy such as qi qong, tai qi, music therapy or simple and gentle exercises.
Some of the common side effects of chemotherapy include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss, mouth sores and pain. Some patients may experience all these while others none at all, depending on the type and amount of drugs they get and how their body reacts, she says.
Some patients also think that certain foods will accelerate the cancer growth. So they stick to only one type of food and this causes them to be even weaker.
"Patients can eat any type of food as long as as they are freshly and hygienically prepared. What we are afraid of is bacteria contamination as this can cause infection."
With the new chemotherapy and anti-cancer drugs, Dr Ng says patients will experience fewer side effects. There are also medications that can prevent vomiting or allergic reactions.
Those suffering from a loss of appetite can opt for soft and easy to swallow food or juices such as milkshakes, smoothies, juice, soup, tofu-fah or ice-cream.
"Ice-cream is a dairy product and contains protein that helps the body. Also, instead of eating three big meals, have frequent small meals. It is important to eat and drink food that have lots of protein, vitamins and calories to help the body fight infection and repair tissues damaged by chemotherapy."
Dr Ng also says that the thought of dying and pain often affect patients' choices of treatments.
"There are different stages of cancer and some are in a curable stage. Even if you are in an advanced stage, there are many therapy options. In some cases, these can lessen the symptoms and pain and improve one's quality of life."