There are a number of strategies in the administration of chemotherapeutic drugs used today. Chemotherapy may be given with a curative intent or it may aim to prolong life or to palliate symptoms.
''Combined modality chemotherapy'' is the use of drugs with other cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy or surgery. Most cancers are now treated in this way. ''Combination chemotherapy'' is a similar practice that involves treating a patient with a number of different drugs simultaneously. The drugs differ in their mechanism and side effects. The biggest advantage is minimising the chances of resistance developing to any one agent.
In ''neoadjuvant chemotherapy'' (''preoperative'' treatment) initial chemotherapy is designed to shrink the primary tumour, thereby rendering local therapy (surgery or radiotherapy) less destructive or more effective.
''Adjuvant chemotherapy'' (''post''operative treatment) can be used when there is little evidence of cancer present, but there is risk of recurrence. This can help reduce chances of developing resistance if the tumour does develop. It is also useful in killing any cancerous cells which have spread to other parts of the body. This is often effective as the newly growing tumours are fast-dividing, and therefore very susceptible.
''Palliative chemotherapy'' is given without curative intent, but simply to decrease tumor load and increase life expectancy. For these regimens, a better toxicity profile is generally expected.
All chemotherapy regimens require that the patient be capable of undergoing the treatment. Performance status is often used as a measure to determine whether a patient can receive chemotherapy, or whether dose reduction is required. Because only a fraction of the cells in a tumor die with each treatment (fractional kill), repeated doses must be administered to continue to reduce the size of the tumor. Current chemotherapy regimens apply drug treatment in cycles, with the frequency and duration of treatments limited by toxicity to the patient.
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