Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses one or more anti-cancer drugs as part of a standardized chemotherapy regimen. Chemotherapy may be given with a curative intent or it may aim to prolong life or to reduce symptoms. Chemotherapy is one of the major categories of the medical discipline specifically devoted to pharmacotherapy for cancer, which is called medical oncology. Chemotherapy is the use of any drug to treat any disease. But to most people, the word chemotherapy means drugs used for cancer treatment. It's often shortened to “chemo”. Surgery and radiation therapy remove, kill, or damage cancer cells in a certain area, but chemo can work throughout the whole body.
Chemotherapy drugs that kill cancer cells only when they are dividing are called cell-cycle specific. Chemotherapy drugs that kill cancer cells when they are at rest are called cell-cycle non-specific. The scheduling of chemotherapy is set based on the type of cells, the rate at which they divide, and the time at which a given drug is likely to be effective. This is why chemotherapy is typically given in cycles. Chemotherapy is most effective at killing cells that are rapidly dividing. Unfortunately, chemotherapy does not know the difference between cancer cells and normal cells. The "normal" cells will grow back and be healthy but in the meantime, side effects occur. The "normal" cells most commonly affected by chemotherapy are the blood cells, the cells in the mouth, stomach and bowel, and the hair follicles; resulting in low blood counts, mouth sores, nausea, diarrhea, and/or hair loss. Different drugs may affect different parts of the body. Chemotherapy (anti-neoplastic drugs) is divided into five classes based on how they work to kill cancer. Although these drugs are divided into groups, there is some overlap among some of the specific drugs. Further sections discuss several different types of chemotherapy in the effort to further explain these important procedures.
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