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Chemotherapy (often abbreviated to chemo and sometimes CTX or CTx) is a category of cancer treatment that uses one or more anti-cancer drugs (chemotherapeutic agents) as part of a standardized chemotherapy regimen. Chemotherapy may be given with a curative intent (which almost always involves combinations of drugs), or it may aim to prolong life or to reduce symptoms (palliative chemotherapy). Chemotherapy is one of the major categories of medical oncology (the medical discipline specifically devoted to pharmacotherapy for cancer).
By common usage, the term chemotherapy has come to connote the use of rather non-specific intracellular poisons, especially related to inhibiting the process of cell division known as mitosis, and generally excludes agents that more selectively block extracellular growth signals (i.e. blockers of signal transduction). For purely historical reasons, the blockade of growth promoting signals coming from classic endocrine hormones (primarily estrogens for breast cancer and androgens for prostate cancer) is known as hormonal therapy, while the blockade of other growth promoting influences (especially those associated with receptor tyrosine kinases) is known as targeted therapy.
Importantly, the use of drugs (whether chemotherapy, hormonal therapy or targeted therapy) constitutes "systemic therapy" for cancer in that they are introduced into the blood stream and are therefore in principle able to address cancer at any anatomic location in the body. Systemic therapy is often used in conjunction with other modalities that constitute "local therapy" (i.e. treatments whose efficacy is confined to the anatomic area where they are applied) for cancer such as radiation therapy, surgery, and/or hyperthermia therapy.
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