Cancer-fighting drugs

By Brandie Umar, Executive Director of ContentLast modified: March 07, 2011


Chemotherapy is a combination of drugs used to fight cancer cells in the body. Chemotherapy prevents the cancer cells from multiplying and can often be effective at putting cancer into remission.


Chemotheapy is used to control cancer and stop the spread of the disease and as a palliative remedy to ease the symptoms of cancer. Chemotherapy is frequently used alongside radiation therapy to treat cancer, or before surgery to shrink cancerous tumors.


How does chemotherapy work?

Cancer spreads so rapidly because of the speed at which cancer cells multiply. Unlike healthy cells in the body, cancer cells multiply rapidly and do not stop multiplying. The continuous multiplication of cancer cells is what causes cancer to spread from one area of the body to another. Chemotherapy drugs work to kill the cancer cells by preventing them from multiplying further.


How does chemotherapy treatment work?

Chemotherapy is a combination of cancer fighting drugs. These drugs can be administered orally in tablet form, in injections or intravenously through a drip.


The most common way to administer chemotherapy is intravenously. Intravenous drugs are absorbed quicker by the body and this method of chemotherapy treatment allows doctors more flexibility with doses of the anti-cancer drugs than oral chemotherapy.


How effective is chemotherapy?

The results of chemotherapy depend on the type of cancer, the advancement of the cancer before treatment begins and the overall health of the patient. For some patients, chemotherapy can defeat cancer cells and the cancer will remain in remission, for other patients, the chemotherapy is not effective or the cancer tumor is too large for chemotherapy to provide a cure. Most cancer patients will require 2-3 chemotherapy treatment cycles to see a response to treatment.


Side effects of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy has a number of side effects, however these side effects will not affect every cancer patient. Chemotherapy works by attacking and killing fast multiplying cells. Unfortunately, many chemotherapy drugs also destroy fast multiplying healthy cells such as skin and hair cells. 


Chemotherapy will often leave patients tired, cause hair loss and problems with the digestive system. These side effects are temporary and will hair will grow back once treatment is stopped. More serious side effects from chemotherapy are damage to bone marrow and low platelet counts. Cancer specialists will monitor patients for signs of these and other side effects and provide treatment to prevent the symptom.


It is important to remember that every combination of chemotherapy drugs will affect patients differently and no two patients experience the same side effects from medication.



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This article was written by the medical research team at does not intend for any of the information on this site to be regarded as medical advice - it is meant as a starting point for understanding treatment details and options before contacting a registered, licensed doctor. We advise all patients to seek medical advice from a doctor.
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