Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells, including leukaemia and lymphoma cells. These drugs can be given on their own, but often more than one drug is given. This is called combination chemotherapy.
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We have more information about chemotherapy drugs. This is written for anyone who's looking for information about chemo drugs, not just for young adults.
The type of chemotherapy treatment you’re given depends on different things, but mainly on:
- The type of cancer you have
- the risk of it coming back
- whether the cancer has spread.
Chemo is often used with other treatments, such as surgery, radiotherapy, hormonal therapies and biological therapies.
We have general information about hormonal therapies and biological therapies. This information is written for people of all ages, not just for young adults.
It varies from person to person, but chemo can be used in the following ways:
- On its own as the main treatment for some cancers, such as lymphomas and leukaemias.
- Before an operation, to shrink a cancer and make it easier for the surgeon to remove it. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
- After an operation, to get rid of any cancer cells left behind and to stop a cancer coming back in the future. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
- To control a cancer and shrink it down.
How does it work?
Chemotherapy stops the cancer cells reproducing themselves. The chemo drugs travel through your blood, so they can reach cancer cells anywhere in the body. Different chemotherapy drugs damage cancer cells in different ways. When doctors use a combination of drugs, they choose each drug for its different effects.
Chemo affects healthy cells as well as cancer cells, which is what causes side effects. The big difference is that the damage to healthy cells is temporary, so side effects usually go away when treatment ends. Healthy cells can repair the damage that chemo does, but cancer cells can’t.