Synonyms: Chemo

Medical Specialties: Family practice, Internal medicine, Oncology

Clinical Definition

Chemotherapy refers to chemicals used to treat cancer, and commonly involves use of antineoplastic drugs used to treat neoplastic disease. The drugs have a cytotoxic effect on cancer cells. Chemotherapy is often used as a systematic treatment for various forms of malignant neoplasms.  

In Our Own Words

Chemotherapy is a form of cancer treatment, and chemo drugs work by killing cancer cells or preventing abnormal cells from multiplying. It differs from a localized treatment, like radiation therapy, since it can treat cancer cells anywhere in the body.

Chemotherapy may be prescribed to cure cancer or just to ease symptoms. There are over 100 different types of chemo drugs available to treat cancer. Types of chemotherapy are classified according to their chemical makeup and how they work. Drugs may be used in various combinations depending on the type of cancer being treated and stages of the disease. 

Relevant Conditions
  • Cancer
Common Types
  • Alkylating agents
  • Antimetabolites
  • Anti-tumor antibiotics
Side Effects
  • Hair Loss
  • Nausea
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Anemia and fatigue
Share this article
  • American Cancer Society. Treatment types. “What is Chemotherapy?” Accessed Aug. 2013.
  • Cleveland Clinic. Chemotherapy. Accessed Aug. 2013.
  • Sugarman, Deborah, MSW. Journal of the American Medical Association. Chemotherapy 2013; 310 (2). Accessed Aug. 2013.
  • American Cancer Society. ”Different Types of Chemotherapy Drugs.” Accessed Aug. 2013.
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