General Information About Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy (also called chemo) is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. At MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, chemotherapy is administered by our team of Fellowship-trained Medical Oncologists who see patients at several locations conveniently located throughout the Lowcountry.

How Chemotherapy Works Against Cancer

Chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells, which grow and divide quickly.

Chemotherapy is used to:

  • Treat cancer Chemotherapy can be used to cure cancer, lessen the chance it will return, or stop or slow its growth.
  • Ease cancer symptoms Chemotherapy can be used to shrink tumors that are causing pain and other problems.

How Chemotherapy Is Used with Other Cancer Treatments

When used with other treatments, chemotherapy can:

  • Make a tumor smaller before surgery or radiation therapy. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
  • Destroy cancer cells that may remain after treatment with surgery or radiation therapy. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
  • Help other treatments work better.
  • Kill cancer cells that have returned or spread to other parts of your body.

Who Receives Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is used to treat many types of cancer. For some people, chemotherapy may be the only treatment you receive. But most often, you will have chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. The types of treatment that you need depends on the type of cancer you have, if it has spread and where, and if you have other health problems.

How Your Doctor Decides Which Chemotherapy Drugs to Give You

There are many different chemotherapy drugs. Which ones are included in your treatment plan depends mostly on:

  • The type of cancer you have and how advanced it is.
  • Whether you have had chemotherapy before.
  • Whether you have other health problems, such as diabetes or heart disease.

Learn how to manage your treatment and the side effects of chemotherapy.