Metronomic chemotherapy is a form of low-dose cancer treatment. During treatment, patients receive low doses of chemotherapy drugs on a frequent basis. This type of chemotherapy is different from traditional chemotherapy in which patients receive high doses of the drugs less frequently. The theory behind metronomic chemotherapy is that it might prove more successful at treating cancer and be a good option for eventually treating cancer as a chronic condition. This is due to the difference between how metronomic chemotherapy works in comparison to how traditional chemotherapy works.
Chemotherapy itself helps treat cancer by killing cancer cells, but in the process, the drugs also kill healthy cells. There is no difference in the drugs used between traditional chemotherapy and metronomic chemotherapy, just the dose and, therefore, the frequency of treatment. With traditional chemotherapy, a high dose damages so many healthy cells that the body needs time to recover before it can receive another dose. As such, the wait period between high-dose chemotherapy is usually weeks at a time. Since metronomic chemotherapy offers a low dose, the damage done to healthy cells is reduced and the body can receive another dose as soon as the next day.
Waiting less time to receive another dose of chemotherapy means that there is a longer presence of the drugs in the body. With chemotherapy drugs in the system, cancer cells will have a hard time growing and spreading because as they divide, the drugs will be able to kill them. To be technical, frequent, low-dose chemotherapy is beneficial for killing endothelial cells, which are cells in the blood vessels of a tumor. When endothelial cells are killed, the blood supply to a tumor is interrupted, and without blood supply, cancer cannot grow. On the other hand, waiting weeks for another dose of chemotherapy allows time for cancer cells to grow.
Metronomic chemotherapy is also beneficial in that a low dose of drugs might reduce chemotherapy side effects normally experienced with a high dose. Examples of side effects include anemia, fatigue and hair loss. Nausea, reduced appetite and vomiting are other chemotherapy side effects. These side effects occur because of the loss of healthy cells during treatment. As such, although side effects vary from person to person,fewer healthy cells lost generally means there is less risk of side effects occurring.
Even with its benefits, metronomic chemotherapy might not be for everyone and patients should speak with their doctors about their treatment options. Traditional chemotherapy is helpful for treating early-stage cancers or cancers that are growing at a fast rate. Usually, patients who undergo metronomic chemotherapy include those who are unable to take high doses of chemotherapy. In addition, those with advanced cancer or chemotherapy-resistant cancer might benefit from low-dose chemotherapy as well.