Chemotherapy is type of treatment for cancer that uses powerful chemicals. The chemicals act on the fast-growing cancer cells in the body and kill them. There are many different types of chemotherapy drugs. For cancer, chemotherapy may be used to:
- Treat a specific cancer: Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given as a primary or sole treatment for cancer depending on the type and stage of cancer. Aim of the treatment is usually to cure the disease, but if the cancer is not curable, chemotherapy may be used to slow the cancer's growth, increase life expectancy and maintain your quality of life.
- After other treatments: As many cancer patients need treatment with more than one type of therapy (surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy), chemotherapy drugs may be given in combination with other cancer treatments such as radiation therapy or surgery to kill hidden cancer cells. The doctor decides whether chemotherapy is given before or after radiation therapy or surgery. Combination of therapies has been shown to improve the chances of cure and survival. Chemotherapy given after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells in the body is called adjuvant chemotherapy. This may help to decrease the chance of recurrence of tumour.
- Before other treatments: Many cancer patients may be given chemotherapy before radiation and surgery. It helps to shrink the tumor so that other treatments such as surgery won’t be as complicated and extensive as it could be. Chemotherapy given before other types of treatment is known as neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.
- Relieve symptoms: If the cancer is not curable, chemotherapy may be given to relieve the signs and symptoms of advanced cancer such as pain and improve the quality of life. This type of treatment is known as palliative chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy for conditions other than cancer: apart from cancer treatment/s, chemotherapy drugs may be used for treating other diseases such as:
- Bone marrow diseases: If the bone marrow and blood cells are affected by a disease that needs bone marrow stem cell transplant, chemotherapy may be given to prepare for a bone marrow stem cell transplant.
- Immune system disorders: Certain diseases related to the immune system such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis may be treated with low doses of chemotherapy drugs.