The goals of chemotherapy may vary by each person's situation. You may be starting chemo for one of these reasons:

  1. To cure the cancer: When possible, chemo is used to eliminate cancer cells until they are no longer detected in your body.
  2. To control the cancer: Chemo may be used to keep cancer from spreading, slow its growth, or destroy cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.
  3. To ease cancer symptoms (sometimes called palliation): When cancer is in the advanced stage, chemo may be used to shrink cancer tumors that are causing pain or pressure.

Chemotherapy given after surgery is called adjuvant chemotherapy. The goal of adjuvant therapy is to kill any cancer cells left in the body after surgery or radiation therapy. Chemo given before surgery is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy. The goal of neo-adjuvant therapy may be to shrink the cancer tumor to make it easier to be removed surgically.

Your doctor will prescribe an exact dose of chemo to be given on a certain schedule. But chemo side effects can get in the way of that schedule. Getting the full dose of chemo that your doctor prescribes may give you a better chance of reaching your treatment goals. You can help to stay on schedule by doing all you can to manage chemo side effects right from the start.

Learn more about meeting treatment goals.

A Closer Look: Mariana*
Mariana had a tumor removed from her breast. Her doctor has prescribed adjuvant chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells. The goal of therapy is to cure the cancer.
Mariana's doctor makes her aware of the risks and side effects of the chemo treatment he prescribed. The side effects she may have include changes to her blood cell counts, hair loss, and nausea and vomiting.
Mariana wants to get the most out of her chemo. She wants to keep on schedule to complete her treatment as prescribed.
Mariana asks her doctor and care team what she can do in advance to prepare for these chemo side effects. She explains that she wants to do what she can to manage side effects and remain on her chemo schedule.
Mariana's doctor gives her details about what she can to do to manage her chemo side effects such as how to avoid infection and manage fatigue and nausea. She gets a list of instructions about what she should eat and drink during her course of chemo. She speaks with a social worker about getting a wig.

*This is a fictional case study based on chemo patient experiences. Your experience is unique. Your doctor and care team will create a plan that will best treat your type of cancer and manage your chemo side effects.

It is important to speak with your doctor and care team about your treatment goals. They can help you understand the journey you are about to take. Success in achieving these treatment goals will vary for each person. Staying on schedule with chemo can help to improve the odds that you'll get the most out of your treatment.

Next: How Your Doctor Picks a Regimen

  • The Chemotherapy and Infection Discussion Guide can help you understand your
    chance for infection

    Infection can be a serious result of chemo. Find out the factors that affect your chance of infection. Simply answer a few questions, and then print your results to share with your doctor.

    Use the Chemotherapy and Infection Discussion Guide to find out more.

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