Chemotherapy is the use of medicines to treat cancer. Years of testing and research have proven chemotherapy an effective cancer treatment for many different types of cancer. Chemotherapy may be used alone or with surgery and radiation depending on the cancer's type and stage.
Chemotherapy works by destroying cells that divide rapidly, such as cancer cells. That means it also destroys some normal healthy cells which also divide rapidly, such as those in the bone marrow, the lining of the gastrointestinal tract (mouth and stomach), the reproductive system and hair follicles. However, these healthy cells usually recover shortly after chemotherapy is complete.
While surgery and radiation remove or destroy cancer cells in a specific area, one of chemotherapy’s main advantages it treats the entire body. Chemotherapy can destroy cancer cells that have spread (metastasized) to parts of the body far from the original tumor.
There are many chemotherapy agents available, which are often used in conjunction with one another. A combination of chemotherapy agents with different actions can work together to destroy more cancer cells. Your medical oncologist will recommend chemotherapy treatments based on what’s right for you. Your physician will take into consideration your age, general health, and ability to tolerate potential side effects of chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy is often given in “cycles”. A cycle may include daily, weekly, or even monthly treatments, depending on the regimen determined by your physician. The duration of chemotherapy cycles also depends upon the type and stage of cancer and research results on similar types of cancer.
Most chemotherapy agents are given intravenously (IV) in which the agent is injected into a vein. Some chemotherapy may also be given orally as a tablet or capsule.