What Chemotherapy?

The word "chemotherapy" ("chemo") is often used when referring to medicines or drugs that treat cancer. But, not all drugs used to treat cancer work in the same way. Traditional or standard chemotherapy uses drugs that are cytotoxic, meaning they can kill tumor cells. If your treatment plan includes traditional or standard chemotherapy, knowing how it works and what to expect can often help you prepare for treatment and make informed decisions about your care.

Treatment with these powerful drugs is called standard chemotherapy, traditional chemotherapy, or cytotoxic chemotherapy.

What does chemotherapy do?
Chemotherapy drugs can:
prevent cell division
target the cancer cells’ food source (the enzymes and hormones they need to grow)
trigger apoptosis, or the “suicide” of cancer cells

Why use chemotherapy?

A doctor may recommend chemotherapy:

  • to shrink a tumor before surgery
  • after surgery or remission, to remove any remaining cancer cells and delay or prevent a recurrence
  • to slow disease progression and reduce symptoms in the later stages, even if a cure is unlikely