Chemotherapy is the use of strong drugs to treat cancer. You will often hear chemotherapy called “chemo,” but it is the same treatment. Chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells, which grow and divide quickly. But it can also harm healthy cells that divide quickly, such as those that line your mouth and intestines or cause your hair to grow. This damage to healthy cells may cause side effects.
Chemotherapy was first used to treat cancer in the 1950s. It has helped many people live full lives. The chemo drugs your doctor or nurse gives you have been tested many times. Research shows they work to help kill cancer cells.
There are more than 100 Chemotherapy drugs used today. Your doctor will typically choose a combination of drugs based on the type of cancer you have and its stage (how much cancer is in your body).
Chemotherapy may be used to:
- Keep the cancer from spreading.
- Slow the cancer’s growth.
- Kill cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of the body.
- Relieve symptoms such as pain or blockages caused by cancer.
- Cure cancer.
Chemotherapy is generally administered in "cycles". How often and how long you receive chemotherapy depends on:
- Type of cancer and how advanced it is
- The goals of treatment (i.e. to cure your cancer, control its growth, or ease the symptoms)
- The type of chemotherapy
- How your body reacts to chemotherapy
A cycle is a period of chemotherapy treatment followed by a period of rest. For instance, you might receive 1 week of chemotherapy followed by 3 weeks of rest. These 4 weeks make up one cycle. The rest period gives your body a chance to build new healthy cells.