MadSci Network: Medicine

Re: What kinds of medicine do they use when you are given chemo therapy?

Date: Mon Dec 14 13:07:37 1998
Posted By: Eli Hestermann, Grad student Biological Oceanography. Woods Hole
Area of science: Medicine
ID: 907628711.Me

Hi Kyle!  I'm always happy to answer questions for fellow Colorado natives.

The whole point of chemotherapy is to kill cancerous cells while leaving 
the healthy, normal cells alone.  Unfortunately we don't have any very good 
ways of doing that right now.  There's a lot of research being done to find 
better ways to target drugs so that they just kill cancer cells, but at the 
moment we're stuck with the methods we have.

Those methods almost entirely rely on the fact that cancer cells are 
dividing and multiplying, while most of the other cells in the body aren't. 
The problem is that there are some cells that are supposed to divide, even 
in adults who aren't growing. Some exmaples are hair follicles, the cells 
that line the digestive tract, and cells of the immune system. Our current 
chemotherapy drugs don't discriminate, which leads to the side effects that 
are common with chemotherapy patients.  There are dozens of these drugs, 
with lots of different names they're marketed under.  A complete list of 
drugs used to treat cancer can be found at:

In addition, a thorough description of the process and options associated 
with chemotherapy can be found at:

I hope this answers your questions.
Eli Hestermann

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