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Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Cytotoxic means toxic to cells. Cancer types include leukaemia|, lymphoma| and myeloma|.
Chemotherapy drugs disrupt the way cancer cells grow and divide but they also affect normal cells.
Sometimes chemotherapy is used alone to treat some types of cancer. But often it’s used with other treatments such as surgery|, radiotherapy|, hormonal therapy|, or other anti-cancer drugs such as targeted or biological therapies|.
Not all cancers are treated with the same chemotherapy drugs or in the same way. There are many different chemotherapy drugs and new drugs are being developed all the time.
Research that’s already been done will help your cancer specialist decide the most effective drugs to treat the type of cancer you have. You may have one drug or a combination of different drugs.
Other anti-cancer drugs are used to treat cancer but they’re not usually known as chemotherapy. For example, newer drugs called targeted treatments or biological therapies are directed at certain parts of the cancer cells and work differently to chemotherapy.
Content last reviewed: 1 October 2012
Next planned review: 2014
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If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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