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Chemotherapy is a specific method of treating oncologic diseases with the use of aggressive chemical substances to kill cancer cells.

The purpose of chemotherapy is to stop or slow down the growth of tumor cells. However, this may also cause damage to healthy rapidly dividing cells, such as those found in the walls of the oral cavity and intestines, or those that make our hair grow. The damage to healthy cells may produce side effects which tend to fade out after chemotherapy is over.


How chemotherapy works

Chemical substances interfere with the ability of cancer cells to divide and reproduce. Chemotherapeutic agents may be injected into the bloodstream to attack cancer cells throughout the body or they may be applied directly to the areas where tumors are present.


What is the goal?

Depending on the type and stage of cancer, chemotherapy can:

  • cure – in this case, the damage to cancer cells is so extensive that they can no longer be identified, and they will not resume to their original size.
  • slow down and hamper the spread – in this case, chemotherapy prevents the spreading of tumors, hampers their growth or kills cancer cells that have spread into other parts of the body.
  • Reduce symptoms (so-called palliative care) – in these scenarios, chemotherapy diminishes tumors which cause pain to patients or prevent organs from functioning.


Mechanisms of the effects

In some cases, chemotherapy may be the only treatment, more frequently, however, it is complemented by surgeries, as well as radiational or biological treatment. Chemotherapy can:

  • reduce the size of a tumor before surgery or radiotherapy – the so-called neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
  • kill remaining cancer cells that remain in the body after a surgery or radiotherapy – the so-called adjuvant chemotherapy.
  • enhance the effects of radiological and biological treatment.
  • kill cancer cell that have reappeared (recurrence) or spread into other parts of the body (metastasis).

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