Chemotherapy (chemo) is a type of treatment that includes a medication or combination of medications to treat cancer. The goal of chemo is to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells. Chemo is considered a systemic therapy. This means it may affect your entire body. Chemo medications attack rapidly growing cancer cells, but they can also affect healthy cells that grow rapidly. The effect of these medications on normal cells often causes chemo side effects.
A wide range of drugs is used to achieve these goals.
The effectiveness depends to some extent on the stage of the cancer being treated.
Goals of chemotherapy treatment
If your doctor has recommended chemotherapy to treat your cancer, it’s important to understand the goals of treatment when making treatment decisions. There are three main goals for chemotherapy (chemo) in cancer treatment:
If possible, chemo is used to cure cancer, meaning that the cancer is destroyed – it goes away and doesn’t come back. There are no guarantees, and though cure may be the goal, it doesn’t always work out that way. It often takes many years to know if a person’s cancer is really cured.
If cure is not possible, the goal may be to control the disease. Chemo is used to shrink tumors and/or stop the cancer from growing and spreading. This can help the person with cancer feel better and live longer.
Chemo can also be used to ease symptoms caused by the cancer. This is called palliative chemotherapy or palliation. When the cancer is at an advanced stage, meaning it’s not under control and has spread from where it started to other parts of the body, the goal may be to improve the quality of life .