Chemotherapy (chemo) is
a treatment that uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells, including leukaemia and lymphoma cells. You may have only one drug, but you’ll often have more
than one. This is called
We have more information about:
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 you have 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. It 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:
- As a main treatment for cancers, such as lymphomas and leukaemias.
- Before surgery or radiotherapy, to try and shrink a cancer and make it easier for the surgeon to remove it. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
- After surgery or radiotherapy, to get rid of any cancer cells left behind and to stop a cancer coming back in the future. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
- At the same time as radiotherapy, to make it work better. This is called chemoradiation.
- To control a cancer and shrink it down. This may reduce the symptoms you may be feeling from cancer.
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.
Often doctors use a combination of drugs. Each drug damages cancer cells at different stages of their development.
Chemo affects healthy cells as well as cancer cells. This is what causes side effects. But 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.