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What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy, or "chemical treatment," has been around since the days of the ancient Greeks. However, chemotherapy for cancer treatment began in the 1940's with the use of nitrogen mustard. Since then, in the attempt to discover what is effective in chemotherapy, many new drugs have been developed and tried as cancer treatments.

Sometimes referred to simply as "chemo", chemotherapy is a cancer treatment used most often to describe drugs that kill cancer cells directly. These are sometimes referred to as "anti-cancer" drugs or "antineoplastics." Other chemo drugs such as biologic response modifiers, hormone therapy, and monoclonal antibodies, which work in different ways as cancer treatments, are included in this web-site. Today's therapy uses more than 100 drugs for cancer treatment. There are even more chemo drugs still under development and investigation for future cancer treatment use.

What is Chemotherapy Used For?

Since cancer is a word used to describe many different diseases, there is no one type of cancer treatment that is used universally. Chemotherapy is used as a cancer treatment for a variety of purposes:

  • To provide cancer treatment and cure a specific cancer
  • To control tumor growth when cure is not possible
  • To shrink tumors before surgery or radiation therapy
  • To relieve cancer symptoms (such as pain)
  • To destroy microscopic cancer cells that may be present after the known tumor is removed by surgery (called adjuvant therapy). Adjuvant therapy is given to prevent a possible cancer recurrence.


Cancer Answers & Appointments

Speak with a cancer nurse specialist for appointment assistance and for answers to your questions about cancer locally at 216.444.7923 or toll-free 1.866.223.8100.

Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (ET).


Resources for medical professionals

  • Outpatient appointment referrals: 216.444.7923 or 866.223.8100
  • Inpatient hospital transfers: 800.553.5056
  • Referring Physician Concierge: 216.444.6196 or 216.312.4910.

Clinical Trials

Search available cancer clinical trials by disease, hospital, phase or number.