Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer using one, or a combination, of ‘cytotoxic antineoplastic’ drugs as part of a treatment program. Chemotherapy may be given with the intention of curing the patient, but may also be used to prolong the life of a patient with terminal cancer. It is often used in conjunction with other cancer treatments such as radiotherapy or surgery.
Traditional chemotherapy drugs kill the cells that divide rapidly, which is one of the main properties of most cancer cells. Unfortunately this means that chemotherapy also harms healthy cells that also divide rapidly, such as the cells in the hair follicles and digestive tracts. This attack on rapidly dividing healthy cells results in the most common side-effects of chemotherapy: alopecia (hair loss), mylesuppression (immunosuppression) and mucositis (inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract).
Certain chemotherapeutic agents also play a role in the treatment of other medical conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis and Crohn’s Disease.