Chemo: What It Is, How It Helps

Chemotherapy refers to the use of medications to treat cancer. These medications fight cancer by interfering with DNA production. The cancer cells are then destroyed as they try to replicate.

Chemotherapy works best for fast-growing cancers and is less effective when the cancer grows more slowly.

A key advantage of chemotherapy is that it is usually delivered intravenously or by pill so the treatment circulates throughout the body. There are over 50 chemotherapy medications and each type of cancer responds best to a certain combination and sequence of treatment that is established by clinical trials.

Current research does not support the use of chemotherapy sensitivity assays in chemotherapy medication selection. In the future, chemotherapy will be guided by testing of molecular and protein changes identified in a patient's individual cancer. That is the thrust of many cancer research studies today.

Though chemotherapy medications are given in a very controlled way, they can cause some common side effects that can vary from patient to patient. Some chemotherapy causes hair loss, others do not. Usually there are several days of fatigue with treatment and potential for lowering of blood counts which need monitoring.

Patients are advised to learn about their individual treatments and the more common side effects they might have by reviewing their teaching packet. Please don't hesitate to ask questions or share your concerns.