Doctors often recommend chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer. Chemotherapy uses drugs that kill dividing cancer cells and prevent them from growing.
Many chemotherapy drugs have adverse effects that can be severe. However, if a doctor recommends a person has chemotherapy, this usually means that the benefits are likely to outweigh any adverse effects.
A person will often have chemotherapy as part of an overall treatment plan, which may also include surgery and radiation therapy. These treatments are effective in many cases of cancer. However, their effectiveness will often depend on the stage of the cancer, among other factors.
Taking to their doctor will help a person understand what to expect from chemotherapy.
Read on to find out more about chemotherapy and what it involves.
A healthy body constantly replaces cells through a process of dividing and growing. When cancer occurs, cells reproduce in an uncontrolled manner.
As a part of the body produces more and more cells, they start to occupy the space that useful cells previously took up.
Chemotherapy drugs interfere with a cancer cell’s ability to divide and reproduce.
A single drug or combination of drugs can do this.
Treatment can either:
- attack cancer cells throughout the body or
- target specific sites or processes
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
Some emerging treatmentsTrusted Source aim to stop the growth of new blood vessels that supply a tumor in order to starve it. Some scientists are concerned that this strategy might encourage the growth and spread of cancer in some cases.
However, in 2018, other researchers concluded that it might help some people.
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
Chemotherapy is an invasive treatment that can have severe adverse effects both during the therapy and for some time after. This is because the drugs often target both cancer cells and healthy cells.