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What Is Chemotherapy? - Definition, Types & Side Effects

Instructor: Patrice Oliver

Patrice has taught multiple subjects including Health & Science & has a Master's degree in Education.

Do you or someone you know have cancer? If so, you may already be familiar with chemotherapy and its possible side effects. Continue reading to learn more about the different types of chemotherapy.

What is Chemotherapy?

A mother diagnosed with cancer did not know how she would tell her son about her disease. She was looking for the right moment because she knew how this news would sadden him. As time went by, the son noticed a difference in his mother's appearance. She began to wear a wig, which was strange to him because his mom's hair has always been long - past her shoulders. He also noticed his mother vomiting often, and there were multiple doctor visits. The son became very suspicious and soon recognized that his mother's changes were side effects of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy bottles -  Chemotherapy -     7-23-15

Chemotherapy is the clinical use of chemical substances to treat cancer. It prevents the growth of or kills malignant cancer cells. This form of treatment is administered by injecting the cancer-fighting medication into the veins. In many cases, it involves multiple types of medications to treat the cancer, and when this happens, the patient receives a group of drugs that work like a team to kill more cancer cells. Chemotherapy is frequently a preferred choice for cancer treatment since it travels throughout the body, unlike treatment with radiation and surgery.

Chemotherapy: Types

The drugs used in chemotherapy are divided into two main categories: antineoplastic (prevents or stops tumor development) and cytotoxic (kills cancer cells). The antineoplastic drugs, also known as anti-cancer drugs, are like a shield against cancer, whereas the cytotoxic drugs work as the sword that wipes out cancer cells. Oncologists, or cancer specialists, have to cautiously select the drugs for patients based on the type of cancer and how far it has spread. General health, age, and medical history are also factors in selecting the best chemotherapy drugs.

In addition to these main categories, chemotherapy drugs come in a variety of types, each with its own function in preventing or killing cancer. Some of the common types of chemotherapy drugs include:

  • Alkylating agents stop DNA replication necessary for cancer cells to divide and multiply. the cancer from repeating.
  • Nitrosoureas compounds are used to treat tumors of the brain.
  • Antimetabolites halt cancer cell growth and division.
  • Antitumor antibiotics stop cancer cells from growing and prevents them from multiplying.
  • Mitotic inhibitors stop cell division that leads to the spread of cancer.

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