When is chemotherapy used?

Having chemotherapy depends on different factors. These include the type of cancer, the risk of it coming back, if it has spread and your general health.

Chemotherapy can be used:

  • as a main treatment for cancers such as lymphomas and leukaemias 
  • before surgery or radiotherapy, to shrink a cancer (neo-adjuvant chemotherapy)
  • after surgery or radiotherapy, to reduce the risk of cancer coming back by treating any remaining cells (adjuvant chemotherapy)
  • at the same time as radiotherapy, to make it work better (chemoradiation)
  • to treat cancer that has spread into surrounding areas (locally advanced cancer) or to other parts of the body (advanced or metastatic cancer) – this may cure certain cancers, but more often the aim is to shrink and control a cancer to try to prolong life, and to relieve symptoms (palliative chemotherapy).

Your cancer doctor or chemotherapy specialist nurse will explain why chemotherapy is being advised for you.

Chemotherapy

This video provides a brief overview of chemotherapy treatment, how it can be given, how it works and possible side effects.

We have videos about other treatment types

Chemotherapy

This video provides a brief overview of chemotherapy treatment, how it can be given, how it works and possible side effects.

We have videos about other treatment types

Back to Chemotherapy explained

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. It can be given alone or with other treatments.

How do chemotherapy drugs work?

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