What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to destroy cancer cells or slow their growth. It is one of the most common treatments for various types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, and leukaemia, among others. It can be used as a primary treatment, often in combination with other therapies such as surgery or radiation therapy, or it may be used to shrink tumours before surgery (neoadjuvant therapy) or to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence after surgery (adjuvant therapy).

How Chemotherapy Works?

Chemotherapy drugs work by targeting rapidly dividing cells, which include cancer cells. However, because chemotherapy drugs can also affect healthy cells that divide rapidly, such as those in the bone marrow, gastrointestinal tract, and hair follicles, they can cause side effects.

The specific chemotherapy drugs and the treatment regimen may vary as per the type and stage of cancer, the patient’s overall health, and treatment goals. These drugs may be administered orally (in the form of pills or capsules) or intravenously (through a vein) and are typically given in cycles, with periods of treatment followed by rest periods to allow the body to recover.

Benefit of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy offers several benefits in the treatment of cancer, depending on the type and stage of the disease. Some of the key benefits of chemotherapy include:

Killing Cancer Cells

The primary goal of this therapy is to destroy cancer cells or slow their growth. Chemotherapy drugs target rapidly dividing cells, which are characteristic of cancer cells. By interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to divide and multiply, it helps to shrink tumours and reduce the cancer burden.

Treatment of Systemic Disease

It is particularly effective in treating cancers that have spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body. Because chemotherapy drugs circulate throughout the bloodstream, they can reach cancer cells in different organs and tissues, making them a valuable treatment option for systemic disease.

Shrinking Tumors

In cases where surgery or radiation therapy is planned, chemotherapy may be used to shrink tumours before the primary treatment. This approach is known as neoadjuvant therapy. It can make the tumour more manageable and increase the likelihood of successful surgical removal or radiation therapy.

Preventing Recurrence

Chemotherapy is administered after surgery or radiation therapy, known as adjuvant therapy. It can help reduce the cancer risk recurrence by targeting any remaining cancer cells that may not have been removed or destroyed by the primary treatment.

Palliative Care

In advanced or metastatic cancer, it may be used to alleviate symptoms, control disease progression, and improve quality of life. This approach, known as palliative chemotherapy, aims to maintain the patient’s overall well-being. It also works to relieve pain, discomfort, and other symptoms associated with cancer.

Combination Therapy

This therapy is often used in combination with other cancer treatments to maximize treatment efficacy and improve outcomes. Surgery, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy are used with chemotherapy to provide effective results. This multimodal approach can target cancer cells through different mechanisms, making it more difficult for the cancer to develop resistance to treatment.


The goal of chemotherapy is to effectively target and destroy cancer cells while minimizing side effects. It also maintains the patient’s quality of life. While it offers significant benefits in cancer treatment, it can also cause side effects due to its effects on healthy cells. However, supportive care and advancements in treatment strategies have helped to minimize side effects and improve the tolerability of chemotherapy. These factors help to make it an essential component of cancer care for many patients.

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