Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill and slow the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy treatment may involve a single drug, or a combination of drugs. Often, it is used in combination with radiation therapy.
Typically, chemotherapy drugs are administered orally or by injection into a blood vessel or muscle. Alternatively, chemotherapy drugs may be given intrathecally, which involves an injection into the cerebrospinal fluid for more direct access to the brain.
Often, patients do not need to stay in the hospital for chemotherapy, since most drugs can be given as an outpatient procedure in the doctor’s office or clinic. However, this depends on the specific drugs used, the patient's diagnosis, and their general health. In some cases, a short hospital stay may be necessary. Likewise, the exact treatment dose and schedule also depends on factors like the patient’s diagnosis and overall health, as well as the specific drug(s) being given.
In general, chemotherapy is most effective on cells that are rapidly dividing, like tumor cells. However, chemotherapy drugs do not discriminate between healthy and cancerous cells. Most normal cells are not sensitive to the effects of chemotherapy, but some cell types that grow rapidly (like blood cells or hair follicle cells) may be affected. This results in common side effects like low blood counts and hair loss. However, these effects are usually temporary, and will cease after treatment is completed.
Recent advances in chemotherapy include convection-enhanced delivery (CED), an experimental technique that delivers drugs directly to the site of the brain tumor. Many recent innovations to CED have been developed at UCSF, by Krystof Bankiewicz MD, PhD. Other ongoing clinical trials at UCSF aim to identify more effective combinations of chemotherapy drugs when used alone, or in conjunction with radiation therapy.
This content was reviewed by UCSF neuro-oncologist Jennie Taylor, MD.