What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is the therapeutic use of a variety of chemicals - given intravenously or orally - to systemically destroy any carcinogenic cells that might be lingering anywhere in your body. The administered chemical agents travel through the bloodstream and reach most cells in the body. The chemical agents can target carcinogenic cells and interfere with their replication and growth thus preventing the spread of cancer. The administered chemical dose has been exacted from years of research studies to determine the maximum tolerable amount of chemicals (which do not cause permanent damage to healthy tissues) resulting in the greatest probability of killing any remaining cancer cells. Administering a series of treatments of the same or different drugs over time ensures that chemotherapy will remove all carcinogenic cells as they undergo different phases of their growth cycle.

Chemotherapy may be given in the following settings:

  • Adjuvant - This is the most common form of treatment, delivered after surgery to treat microscopic carcinogenic cells which are not visibly detected, but which may cause the cancer to recur or spread.
  • Neo-adjuvant - This is treatment administered before surgery, to reduce the size of the tumor in the hopes of requiring a less invasive surgery and increasing the chances for "clear margins" or total removal of cancerous tissue.
  • Metastatic - This treatment is administered to decrease the size of tumors and slow the spread of the disease. In the hopes of stabilizing the progression, this treatment is used to reduce the symptoms of the disease, as well as to improve the quality of life for the patient.