What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Cytotoxic means toxic to cells. Cytotoxic 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 is used with other treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy, or other anti-cancer drugs such as targeted therapies.

Chemotherapy drugs

Not all cancers are treated with the same chemotherapy drugs, or in the same way. You may have one chemotherapy drug or a combination of different drugs. There are many different chemotherapy drugs and new drugs are being developed all the time.

Research that has already been done will help your cancer specialist decide on the most effective drugs to treat the type of cancer you have. You may be invited to take part in a research trial.

Other anti-cancer drugs

Other anti-cancer drugs are used to treat cancer, but they are not usually known as chemotherapy. For example, drugs called targeted therapies are directed at certain parts of the cancer cells and work differently to chemotherapy. These drugs can be given on their own or in combination with chemotherapy drugs.

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The “chemo” word is scary. But it’s just medicine. I had 3 cycles, and whilst it wasn’t fun, nor was it unbearable. The overriding memory was boredom and some tiredness.


Back to Chemotherapy explained

How do chemotherapy drugs work?

Chemotherapy drugs work by stopping cancer cells reproducing. The drugs can also affect healthy cells, causing side effects.

When is chemotherapy used?

Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells in the body. Your doctor will explain if chemotherapy is advised for you.