Explainer: what is chemotherapy and how does it work?

Photo: Bill Branson - CC BY
National Cancer Institute (Bill Branson) - CC0 Public Domain

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancer in humans and animals. It is rarely used in isolation and is often paired with surgery, radiotherapy and immunotherapy, or a combination of these.

Chemotherapy works by causing cancer cells to undergo a type of forced suicide, called apoptosis.

The severe side effects associated with chemotherapy are due to the drugs’ poor selectivity for cancerous tissue over healthy tissue.

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