Depending on factors such as the type of cancer, whether it has metastasized, how advanced the cancer is, location of tumor, age of patient, additional health issues, etc.; chemotherapy may be administered prior to surgery or radiation – neo-adjuvant in order to shrink the cancerous tumor while minimizing possible complications, or administered post-surgery or following radiation – namely adjuvant.
Even when the tumor has been removed, or most of it is not visible to the naked eye, there is still a danger that isolated tumor cells remain in the body. In these cases, the aim of treatment is to complete therapy and destroy invisible tumor cells or those tumor cells which were impossible to remove with surgery.
Chemotherapy may be given together with biological, or hormone therapy or as the sole therapeutic agent.
When a cure is not possible, chemotherapy may be used to prolong life or improve quality of life (also called palliative care) by delay progression of the disease or even bring about remission (shrinkage of the tumor).
The different types of medications vary greatly in their mechanisms of action, their effects on different tumors, and the range of their toxicity.