What Is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a group of medications that attack and destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is a common cancer treatment option. It can be used to cure cancer, control cancer, and/or relieve the symptoms that cancer may cause. Some chemotherapy medicines are pills you swallow. You receive other types of chemotherapy through an injection or infusion (IV).

Chemotherapy Side Effects

Chemotherapy drugs destroy cancer cells by stopping them from growing or reproducing. At the same time, healthy cells can be harmed, especially those cells that reproduce rapidly, causing side effects. Hair loss, tiredness and nerve pain are common chemotherapy side effects. Typically these healthy cells repair themselves after the chemotherapy is complete. 

Other Treatments

Other types of drugs that may be used to treat cancer include those that block the effect of your body's hormones. For example, many women with breast cancer have been treated with the pill tamoxifen, which blocks how estrogen acts in the body. Another type of drug, called "biological" agents, actually boost your body's own immune system or help the body repair cells destroyed by chemotherapy.

The medical oncologist is the physician who will recommend a treatment plan utilizing the drugs that may be most effective for the cancer you have. Factors the medical oncologist will consider are: what kind of cancer you have, where in the body the cancer is found, the effect of cancer on your normal body functions, and your general health.