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Chemotherapy is the use of chemical agents to destroy cancer cells and has become a mainstay in the treatment of malignancies. Since its first use in the 1900s, the search for drugs with anticancer activity has continued with the goal of treatment evolving from relief of symptoms to cancer cure.

A major advantage of chemotherapy is its ability to treat widespread or metastatic cancer, whereas surgery and radiation therapy are limited to treating cancers that are confined to specific areas.

Chemotherapy as Part of Your Treatment Program

If you need chemotherapy, a medical/oncologist will coordinate this part of your care. Penn medical oncologists have a great deal of experience in the use of chemotherapy as part of an overall cancer treatment program and in chemotherapy research.

Depending upon your kind of cancer and its stage of development, chemotherapy can be used to:

  • Cure cancer
  • Prevent the spread of cancer to other parts of the body
  • Kill cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body
  • Decrease the size of a cancerous tumor
  • Relieve symptoms caused by cancer

Chemotherapy Drugs

Chemotherapy drugs work by attacking cancer cells and slowing or stopping the cell's ability to grow and multiply. Cancer cells go through many steps to grow. There are many types of chemotherapy drugs and each interferes with cell growth at a different step. Certain chemotherapy drugs are given only for certain diseases.

The most common ways to give chemotherapy are:

  • Oral (taking pills or capsules by mouth)
  • Intravenous (IV) (injecting medication into a vein)
  • Intramuscular (IM) (injecting medication into the muscle)
  • Subcutaneously (injecting medication into the skin)

Chemotherapy drugs can be delivered to specific body areas by using special techniques. Some examples are:

  • Intrathecal: Chemotherapy is placed directly into the central nervous system (brain /spinal cord)
  • Intra-arterial: Arteries are used to deliver chemotherapy directly to the organs
  • Intraperitoneal: Chemotherapy is delivered directly into the abdomen
  • Intravesical: Chemotherapy is placed in the bladder

Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center's chemotherapy suites offer:

  • Rooms, where patients receive chemotherapy accompanied, if they wish, by family or friends.
  • Treatment and education for each chemotherapy session.
  • Oncology counselors to provide support.
  • On-site oncology pharmacies where medications are prepared and then administered in our chemotherapy suites.
  • Pharmacies staffed by experienced oncology pharmacists who will answer any questions you may have about the medications you receive.
  • A laboratory for blood drawing and on-site testing.
  • For your convenience, Penn medical oncology and chemotherapy services are available at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, and Presbyterian Medical Center.

Dose Dense Therapy

Dose-dense chemotherapy (DDC) is a concept of chemotherapy administration that is being utilized more often. Cancer cells are most sensitive to chemotherapy at the point when they are rapidly dividing, which occurs in the early stages. Standard chemotherapy calls for a standard dose given every three or four weeks, allowing for healthy cells to recover between doses. However, we now recognize that this three-week break may allow the smaller, rapidly dividing tumor cells to start growing rapidly again. DDC aims to achieve maximum tumor kill by increasing the rate of chemotherapy delivery, not by increasing dosage.

Learn more about dose dense chemotherapy at OncoLink.