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Cancer chemotherapy involves treating cancer with drugs that impair the ability of malignant cells to grow and divide (Galmarini 2012; ASCO 2014; Mayo Clinic 2015). However, similarities between cancer cells and healthy cells make it challenging to kill only malignant cells while sparing normal cells (Keyomarsi 2003; Galmarini 2012; Mihlon 2010; Chabner 2013a).

Cancer cells are mutated, dysfunctional versions of healthy cells. They are well adapted for survival and propagation in the human body. Cancer cells usually divide rapidly and thus are more vulnerable to chemotherapy than healthy cells, most of which divide more slowly. This is because chemotherapy drugs typically damage cells during cellular division (Beck 2004; Xian 2003; Kamil 2010; Mouser 2014; Lin 1999; Beer 2001; Galmarini 2012; Baszkowsky 2012).

Unfortunately, several normal cell types do divide rapidly under healthy conditions and are susceptible to the toxic effects of chemotherapy. This is the basis for the many well-known side effects of chemotherapy, such as hair loss, gastrointestinal problems, anemia, and immune system suppression (Beck 2004; Xian 2003; Kamil 2010; Mouser 2014; Lin 1999; Beer 2001; Galmarini 2012; Baszkowsky 2012).

This fine line between killing cancer cells and sparing normal, healthy cells has been a major focus of chemotherapy drug development for years (Galmarini 2012).

Another challenge in the treatment of cancer is that malignant cells are often naturally resistant to chemotherapeutic drugs, or develop resistance to them during early rounds of chemotherapy. This is called chemoresistance (Marin 2012; Galmarini 2012; Mihlon 2010; Chabner 2013a; Abdullah 2013; Baszkowsky 2012).

The good news is that emerging technologies such as chemosensitivity testing and genetic profiling are helping to better match patients with treatments that are more likely to effectively treat their specific cancer (Grigsby 2013; Geng 2013; Herzog 2010; Smith 1990; Kalia 2013; Cobo 2007; Goncalves 2013). Moreover, studies have shown that certain drugs and integrative interventions, such as the staple antidiabetic medication metformin and the natural phytochemical curcumin (found in the spice turmeric), may help overcome chemoresistance and sensitize some cancers to the toxic effects of chemotherapy (Soritau 2011; Tan 2011; Jiralerspong 2009; Lee, Kim 2012; Honjo 2014; Dhandapani 2007; Howells 2011; Sung 2009; Yu 2011).

Other novel strategies, such as intermittent fasting, may also protect against chemotherapy side effects and sensitize cancer cells to the effects of chemotherapy (Lee, Raffaghello 2012; Lee 2011; Raffaghello 2010; Naveed 2014; Safdie 2012).

These developments, along with other advancements in the science of oncology, mean that cancer patients have a better chance of positive outcomes than ever before.

This protocol aims to empower cancer patients with knowledge about strategies to lessen chemotherapy side effects and potentially enhance the efficacy of chemotherapeutic drugs through the novel utilization of pharmaceuticals, integrative interventions, and healthy dietary and lifestyle approaches.

Note: this protocol should be consulted in conjunction with Cancer Treatment: The Critical Factors. Other protocols potentially of interest include Cancer Radiation Therapy, Cancer Surgery, Cancer Adjuvant Therapy, Complementary Alternative Cancer Therapies, and Cancer Vaccines and Immunotherapy.