Chemotherapy Overview

The treatment provided in Medical Oncology, called chemotherapy, involves the use of anti-cancer drugs to destroy or diminish cancer cells. Unlike radiation therapy or surgery, which are considered localized treatments, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment since the drugs travel throughout the entire body.

During chemotherapy, single drugs or combinations of drugs are used to kill cancer cells. These drugs are usually administered through a vein, and the chemotherapy treatment can last from a few minutes to several hours. Chemotherapy can be used prior to surgery to shrink a tumor ("neoadjuvant chemotherapy"), or after surgery -either alone or simultaneously with radiation therapy - to attack cancer cells that remain in the body after surgery ("adjuvant therapy"). The type and stage of your cancer, as well as your overall state of health, will determine what type of chemotherapy is recommended.

Chemotherapeutic drugs can damage healthy cells along with cancerous cells, which can cause side effects, including hair loss, fatigue, nausea, and other symptoms in some people undergoing treatment. Side effects generally resolve when the treatment ends, and some of the side effects formerly associated with chemotherapy can now be prevented or controlled, allowing many people to work, travel, and participate in many of their normal activities while receiving chemotherapy.

For more information on chemotherapy, view the National Cancer Institute's booklet, "Chemotherapy and You".