The goals of chemotherapy (chemo) 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.

Chemo given after surgery or radiation 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 neoadjuvant chemotherapy. The goal of neoadjuvant therapy may be to shrink the cancer tumor to make it easier to be removed surgically.

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 her 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 chemo side effects she may have include changes to her blood cell counts, hair loss, and nausea and vomiting.
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 chemo side effects.
Mariana's doctor gives her details about what she can do to manage her chemo side effects, such as how to help prevent 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.

Next: How Your Doctor Picks a Regimen

  • The Chemotherapy and Infection Discussion Guide can help you understand your
    risk of infection

    Infection can be a serious side effect of strong chemo. Find out the factors that affect your risk 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.