I have decided to devote a post to this question because I have heard this asked so many times by people who are considering treatment and who are treating.
Most people don’t know that chemotherapy is not only used for cancer. It is used for hepatitis and in some cases of multiple sclerosis. I am sure there are other examples but you get the idea. Some people will say, “but isn’t any drug technically chemotherapy, since they are chemicals used to treat illness?” If you want to look at it that broadly, yes, but this treatment is also chemotherapy in the popular sense of the word. Here is why:
There are a couple of different types of what we traditionally think of as chemotherapy. Some of them are hormonally based, some are made from plant proteins, etc. With Hep C treatment, the part of the therapy that makes this classifiable as chemo is the interferon. If you are on Pegasys (peginterferon alfa-2a) it is the type of chemotherapy known as an “antineoplastic agent” and is made from human proteins. Go to this link for a better summary than what I am capable of:
Additionally, the same type of interferon is also used to treat certain types of melanomas and hairy cell leukemia, except in those cases they use higher doses than what we use in our treatment regimen.
Some people have called this “chemo light.” I take exception to that. Some of us have a very hard time with this treatment and to call it “lite” is misleading. Also consider that even though we take a smaller dose of the chemotherapy agent than someone with cancer, in many cases with cancer you do not administer the drug every single week for six months or more, but rather in larger IV doses spread out in time…so I’d think that in many cases it kind of “evens out” as far as difficulty of treatment. Our hair thins. We throw up. Our red and white blood cells die, our hemoglobin goes down…this is not something to take on lightly. I believe the benefits of this treatment outweigh the risks, especially if you are in reasonably good health to begin with. I will tell you outright that I am an advocate of treating. However, anyone considering this treatment should go in with their eyes wide open so to speak, and if you don’t think you can handle chemotherapy, then don’t take on this treatment because that is what this is.