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Chemotherapy Overview

The treatment provided in Medical Oncology involves the use of anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells or to reduce cancer cell growth. Unlike radiation therapy or surgery, which are considered localized treatments, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment because it affects cancer cells throughout the body. During chemotherapy, single drugs or combinations of drugs are used to kill cancer cells. These drugs are usually administered through a vein, and the chemotherapy treatment can last from a few minutes to several hours.


Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is given prior to surgery to shrink a tumor. Adjuvant chemotherapy is given after surgery. Sometimes adjuvant chemotherapy is given throughout a course of radiation therapy. This type of therapy is called concurrent chemotherapy. Adjuvant chemotherapy and concurrent chemotherapy are given to attack cancer cells that may remain in the body after surgery. The type and stage of cancer, as well as your overall state of health, will determine the type of chemotherapy recommended by your oncologist.

The damage to healthy cells that occurs with standard chemotherapy drugs causes side effects which can include fatigue, nausea, lowered resistance to infection and sometimes hair loss. Side effects generally resolve when the treatment ends, and some of the side effects formerly associated with chemotherapy can now be prevented or controlled. Many people are able to work, travel, and participate in many normal activities while receiving chemotherapy.