Chemotherapy treats cancer through the use of cancer-eliminating drugs.  Because it is systemic, chemotherapy is able to destroy cancer cells found in any part of the body.  Some patients receive chemotherapy alone, while others might undergo a combination of chemotherapy along with other forms of treatment such as radiation therapy and/or surgery.

How often a patient undergoes chemotherapy is dependent upon the type of cancer as well as the stage of the cancer.  Some factors that help to determine the specific chemotherapy medications used include the age of the patient and his or her tolerance of side effects.


The body forms new cells to replace old or damaged ones.  Healthy cells grow, function all through their lifespan, and then die.  Cancerous cells, on the other hand, do not merely function and die, but multiply themselves at an abnormal rate.  When chemotherapy is administered, the drugs will either block the cancer cells’ ability to replicate, or will simply destroy the cells at any stage in their development.  The common side effects of chemotherapy (nausea, vomiting, infection, bruising, and hair loss) are a result of the drugs attacking healthy cells as well as cancerous ones.


The type and stage of a person’s cancer determines the combination of drugs needed.  More than 100 chemotherapy drugs exist today, and many are combined in one treatment. Chemotherapy medications are administered by injection or orally.  Pharmaceutical companies are continually coming out with new, experimental chemotherapy drugs.  Below are some of the most widely used medication groups in chemotherapy:

  • Made from natural substances, antibiotics interfere with the synthesis of DNA during cell division.
  • Alkylating agents are medications that attack the DNA in cancer cells and prevent cells from replicating.
  • Plant alkaloids are developed from plant material found in nature and prevent replication of cancer cells.
  • Antimetabolites work by interfering with the growth of RNA and DNA during cell division.

Please click here for Frequently Asked Questions about Chemotherapy.