Chemotherapy is a powerful method used to treat cancer by utilizing a combination of drugs to target and destroy cancer cells. It plays a crucial role in the overall cancer treatment plan, which may also include surgery, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy. To understand how chemotherapy works, it is essential to first comprehend the nature of cancer cells and their growth patterns.

Cancer cells are abnormal cells that divide and grow uncontrollably, forming tumors and potentially spreading to other parts of the body. Unlike healthy cells, which have a regulated life cycle, cancer cells do not follow the same rules and can evade the body’s natural defense mechanisms. This uncontrolled growth is what makes cancer so dangerous and challenging to treat.

Chemotherapy drugs are designed to target and kill these rapidly dividing cells. They work by interfering with the cancer cells’ ability to grow, divide, and reproduce. There are several ways in which chemotherapy drugs achieve this:

  • 1. Damaging the DNA: Some chemotherapy drugs work by causing damage to the cancer cells’ DNA, which is the genetic material responsible for cell division and growth. When the DNA is damaged, the cancer cells cannot divide and eventually die.
  • 2. Inhibiting cell division: Other chemotherapy drugs target the proteins and enzymes necessary for cell division. By blocking these proteins, the drugs prevent the cancer cells from dividing and growing.
  • 3. Disrupting the cell cycle: Chemotherapy drugs can also interfere with the different stages of the cell cycle, which is the process by which cells grow and divide. By disrupting this cycle, the drugs can prevent cancer cells from multiplying.
  • 4. Targeting the cancer cells’ environment: Some chemotherapy drugs work by targeting the blood vessels that supply nutrients and oxygen to the cancer cells. By cutting off this supply, the drugs can starve the cancer cells and inhibit their growth.

Chemotherapy is often administered in cycles, with periods of treatment followed by periods of rest. This allows the body to recover from the side effects of the drugs and gives healthy cells a chance to repair any damage caused by the treatment. The specific drugs, dosages, and duration of chemotherapy treatment will vary depending on the type and stage of cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health.

It is important to note that chemotherapy drugs cannot differentiate between cancer cells and healthy cells, which can lead to side effects. These side effects may include fatigue, hair loss, nausea, and a weakened immune system. However, many of these side effects can be managed with additional medications and supportive care.

Learn more

To learn more about how chemotherapy works in treating cancer on, follow these steps:

  • 1. Visit the MedlinePlus website: Begin by navigating to the MedlinePlus homepage at
  • 2. Utilize the search bar: Locate the search bar at the top of the page. Type in “chemotherapy” and click the magnifying glass icon or press “Enter” on your keyboard to initiate the search.
  • 3. Browse search results: You will be directed to a page displaying a list of search results related to chemotherapy. Look for articles, videos, or other resources that specifically discuss how chemotherapy works in treating cancer.
  • 4. Access the “Chemotherapy” topic page: Among the search results, you may find a link to the “Chemotherapy” topic page. Click on this link to access a comprehensive collection of information and resources about chemotherapy.
  • 5. Explore the “Start Here” section: On the “Chemotherapy” topic page, you will find a “Start Here” section, which contains introductory information about chemotherapy. Look for articles or resources that explain the process of chemotherapy and its role in cancer treatment.
  • 6. Investigate the “Related Issues” section: Scroll down the “Chemotherapy” topic page to find the “Related Issues” section. This area contains links to articles and resources that discuss specific aspects of chemotherapy, such as how it works, side effects, and types of chemotherapy drugs.
  • 7. Utilize the “Videos and Tutorials” section: If you prefer visual explanations, explore the “Videos and Tutorials” section on the “Chemotherapy” topic page. This section contains educational videos and interactive tutorials that can help you better understand how chemotherapy works in treating cancer.
  • 8. Consult the “Journal Articles” section: For more in-depth information, visit the “Journal Articles” section on the “Chemotherapy” topic page. This section contains links to scientific articles and research studies related to chemotherapy and cancer treatment.

By following these steps and exploring the various resources available on, you can gain a comprehensive understanding of how chemotherapy works in treating cancer. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and information related to your specific situation.

Additional resources

In seeking information on how chemotherapy works in treating cancer, several government resources can provide valuable insights. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is a primary source for comprehensive cancer information, including details on chemotherapy, its mechanisms, and its role in cancer treatment. The NCI’s website ( offers a wealth of knowledge on various chemotherapy drugs, their side effects, and how they are administered.

Another relevant resource is the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which conducts and supports extensive research on cancer and its treatments. The NIH website ( provides access to numerous scientific publications and research findings related to chemotherapy, its effectiveness, and ongoing advancements in cancer treatment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is another valuable government resource for information on cancer and its treatments. The CDC website ( offers data on cancer incidence, mortality, and prevention, as well as resources for cancer survivors, including those who have undergone chemotherapy.

Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plays a crucial role in regulating and approving chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment. The FDA website ( provides information on approved chemotherapy medications, their uses, and any associated warnings or precautions.

Lastly, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is a government organization that focuses on improving the quality and safety of healthcare, including cancer treatment. The AHRQ website ( offers resources on cancer care quality, patient safety, and comparative effectiveness research, which can provide insights into the role of chemotherapy in cancer treatment.

Our articles make government information more accessible. Please consult a qualified professional for financial, legal, or health advice specific to your circumstances.

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