Chemotherapy

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Chemotherapy, in the most simple sense, is the treatment of an ailment by chemicals[1] especially by killing micro-organisms or cancerous cells. In popular usage, it refers to antineoplastic drugs used to treat cancer or the combination of these drugs into a cytotoxic standardized treatment regimen. In its non-oncological use, the term may also refer to antibiotics (antibacterial chemotherapy). In that sense, the first modern chemotherapeutic agent was arsphenamine, an arsenic compound discovered in 1909 and used to treat syphilis. This was later followed by sulfonamides (sulfa drugs) and penicillin.

Most commonly, chemotherapy acts by killing cells that divide rapidly, one of the main properties of most cancer cells. This means that it also harms cells that divide rapidly under normal circumstances: cells in the bone marrow, digestive tract and hair follicles; this results in the most common side effects of chemotherapy : myelosuppression (decreased production of blood cells, hence also immunosuppression), mucositis (inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract), and alopecia (hair loss).

Other uses of cytostatic chemotherapy agents (including the ones mentioned below) are the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, dermatomyositis, polymyositis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (See DMARDs) and the suppression of transplant rejections (see immunosuppression).

Newer anticancer drugs act directly against abnormal proteins in cancer cells; this is termed targeted therapy.

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