Chemotherapy refers to the use of drugs, known as chemotherapeutic agents or chemo, to kill or slow the growth of rapidly multiplying cancer cells. It may be given with a curative intent or it may aim to prolong life and/or control symptoms. Chemotherapy is often used as part of a standardized treatment and often in conjunction with other cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy or surgery. It may be given as a combination of drugs, or as single agents depending on the stage of disease and the clinical situation.
Chemotherapy drugs are most commonly given intravenously (through an IV) or orally (through the mouth), but they can be given in other ways. If chemotherapy is given before the primary treatment, then it is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy. If chemotherapy is given after the primary cancer treatment, it is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
One type of chemotherapy is systemic therapy. Systemic means affecting the entire body. Chemotherapy that is systemic goes all through the body. This means it can kill cancer cells that have spread. The patient takes this chemotherapy in a pill or gets it by IV, into a vein. Systemic therapy affects healthy cells as well as cancer cells. If the patient has the drugs given intravenously, he or she will likely get them at an outpatient clinic. These treatments can range from 60 seconds in duration to 72 hours.