Chemotherapy is the use of chemical substances to treat disease, primarily referred to as the use of cytoxic (anti-cancer) drugs to treat cancer. Cancer chemotherapy may consist of single drugs or combinations of drugs, and can be administered through a vein, injected into a body cavity, or delivered orally in the form of a pill. Considered a systemic treatment, chemotherapy is entirely different from surgery or radiation therapy.
Chemotherapy drugs can stop cancer cells dividing and reproducing themselves. As the drugs are carried in the blood, they can reach cancer cells anywhere in the body but are also taken up by healthy cells. Healthy cells can repair the damage caused by chemotherapy but cancer cells cannot and so they eventually die.
More than 50% of all people diagnosed with cancer undergo chemotherapy. For millions of people who have cancer and respond well to chemotherapy, this approach helps treat their cancer effectively, enabling them to enjoy full and productive lives. Furthermore, many side effects once associated with chemotherapy are now easily prevented or controlled, allowing many people to work, travel and participate in many of their normal activities while receiving chemotherapy.
Being informed about chemotherapy and its potential side effects can help you to proactively manage your own care and optimize your treatment and its outcome. It is best to discuss the details of your own treatment with your doctor, who will be familiar with your particular situation and type of cancer.