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What is Chemotherapy?

Medical oncology, like radiation oncology, is vital to the management of cancer.

Medical oncology uses chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapy to manage rapidly growing malignant (cancer) cells in the body. We sometimes use the word ‘chemotherapy’ to describe all three treatments.

The most common way to deliver these treatments is intravenously (via a drip into a vein). Some treatments are taken orally as tablets or capsules. There are other methods of administration but these are used less commonly.


Chemotherapy is one of the most prescribed treatments in medical oncology and can be used in different ways:

  • As a single form of treatment
  • With radiation therapy (often abbreviated as ‘chemo-rads’)
  • Before surgery to shrink the tumour (called ‘neo-adjuvant’ chemotherapy)
  • After surgery to kill off any remaining cancer cells (called ‘adjuvant’ chemotherapy)
  • Together with targeted therapy and/or hormonal therapy

Your doctor (Medical Oncologist) will decide how and when your treatment should be administered to provide the best possible outcome.

Hormonal Therapy

Hormonal therapy is used to treat cancers sensitive to our body’s hormones. While many different mechanisms are at play, some ‘hormone-sensitive cancers’ derive much of their growth and division through the presence of natural hormones in our body, such as oestrogen and testosterone. Hormonal therapy is commonly used to treat prostate and some breast cancers or other gynaecological cancers, and may be used with other treatments such as chemotherapy, targeted therapies or radiotherapy.

Targeted Therapy

The term Targeted Therapy refers to drugs that specifically target cancer cells and block the signals (specific molecules in the cancer cells) that tell them to grow. Only some tumours are suitable for targeted therapies and this is determined after testing genetic samples of the tumour. With advances in science and cancer medicine, different types of targeted therapies are now available and more are being discovered as we better understand the mechanisms that switch cancer cells on and off.

Targeted therapies include monoclonal antibodies (also sometimes called ‘biologics’ because they are made in living cells), immunological agents, signal transduction agents, apoptosis-inducing drugs and antibody drug conjugates. Some targeted therapies are used in a combination with chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy and with or without radiation therapy.

Every cancer and person is unique. The medical oncologist will determine the most effective treatment or combination of treatments.

We currently offer Medical Oncology at our Hurstville site.

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