How effective is chemotherapy? How close is it to curing cancer?

Chemotherapy is a very successful treatment option to cure cancer and kill cancerous tumors in the body. It is taken in the form of medicine. Chemotherapy works by destroying tumors and preventing them from spreading and multiplying. Chemotherapy spreads around the body, killing all cancerous cells in other areas of the body as well as those far away from the primary tumor. Chemotherapy for breast cancer in India and other cancers in India has some temporary and mild side effects. 

Breast cancer, colorectal cancer, lymphoma, lung cancer, testicular cancer, bladder cancer, and other cancers are all treated with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy, along with surgery and radiotherapy, is the best treatment for breast cancer in India.

Max Healthcare and Super Speciality Hospital is considered to be the best hospital for breast cancer treatment in India and other types of cancer.  

Aim of Chemotherapy:

If your doctor has recommended chemotherapy in curing cancer, then it is vital to study its role in treating the cancer. The goal of chemotherapy is:


Chemotherapy attempts to slow or stop the spread of cancer, rather than cure it. Chemotherapy is used in these situations to shrink tumors and keep them from spreading to other areas of the body. This will help the individual live longer and happier lives. This does not imply that the cancer is cured, but rather that it is treated and regulated in the same way that diabetes and heart disease are. In many cases, cancer may go and come back again. 


The aim of the chemotherapy is to cure the cancer and prevent it from coming back. Doctors will never use the word “cure” in regard to chemotherapy until the results are significant. Hence, your doctor might suggest it as a curative intent. However, you cannot alone rely on this treatment. It could take years to find out whether the cancer has been absolutely eradicated.


Chemotherapy is not just limited to cure and control but also aims to ease out the symptoms of the cancer. This is known as palliation. When the cancer is reached at its advanced stage and is no more curable or controlled then the doctor suggests chemotherapy to help improve the quality of life and make the person feel better. Chemotherapy, for example, is used to shrink a tumor that is causing discomfort in order to help the patient feel better and experience less pain.

How long does chemo take to shrink a tumor?

It takes around 6 months or a year’s time for the chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. The time period also depends on your body for how long it works.  

At what stage of cancer is chemotherapy used?

Mostly, chemo is used in all stages of all types of cancer. It is used to destroy cancerous cells in the body, either alone or in combination.

To know the effectiveness of chemotherapy, let’s see the success rate for various forms of cancer. Remember, age and overall health of an individual play a vital role in the success of chemotherapy treatment. 

Chemotherapy is usually preceded along with other treatments such as surgery and radiotherapy. This puts researchers into a perplexing situation as to which treatment was far effective! The success rate of chemotherapy cannot be measured alone. However, we have tried to put examples in each type of cancer where chemotherapy is provided to get an approximation of its effectiveness. 

Please note, the statistics mentioned below is taken from an authentic cancer organisation. The report suggests the percentage of people with a 5 year survival rate after cancer diagnosis. 

Breast Cancer:

People with stage I, II, or III breast cancer must have surgery as part of their care. Surgery is a complex medical procedure hence not all tumors can be removed during surgery. Hence, the left out tumor cells are removed through radiotherapy and chemotherapy. 

Some people might also undergo only chemotherapy with breast cancer. There is a 99% chance of 5 year survival rate with localised breast cancer after the surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. 

Lung cancer:

Lung cancer are of two types namely: 

  • Small cell
  • Non-cell 

Chemotherapy is provided to people with small cell lung cancer as part of their care. Localized lung cancer has a 5-year survival rate of 55 percent.

Bladder cancer:

People suffering from bladder cancer either have to go through cystectomy surgery or transurethral resection of the bladder. It is estimated that around 52% of people with bladder cancer receive some of the chemotherapy. Bladder cancer patients have a 70% five-year survival rate.

Your oncologists will suggest what medicine and in what amount and with what combination should it be given. All this will depend on various factors such as the stage of your cancer, type of cancer, the location of the cancer and how it will affect your overall health. 

Sometimes chemo alone can be helpful in curing the cancer. However, in most cases, it is used together with surgery and radiotherapy. It is also used in combination with other drugs namely targeted therapy, immunotherapy and hormone therapy. 

  • If the cancer returns or does not respond to surgery, it may be combined with other therapies.
  • It is used to shrink tumor cells prior to surgery. Neoadjuvant therapy is the term for this type of treatment.
  • It can be used to destroy any lingering cancerous cells in the body following surgery and radiotherapy. Adjuvant therapy is the term for this type of treatment.
  • It may also be combined with other medications, such as targeted therapy, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy, to help destroy tumor cells. 

What type of cancer does not require chemo?

Chemotherapy is used to treat a variety of cancers. Many early-stage breast cancer patients, on the other hand, may avoid chemotherapy after surgery.

How to determine if chemotherapy is working?

The effectiveness of the chemotherapy can be measured in the patient’s response. 

Signs chemo is working:

  • Blood tests can be performed to determine its effectiveness.
  • It can be measured in the CT scan to see if there are any traces of cancerous cells after chemotherapy.
  • Your oncologists can physically examine you to look for lumps or tumors in lymph nodes. 
  • In certain cancer, tumor marker tests can be performed. 

Signs chemo is killing you:

Every treatment does come along with certain risks and complications. Here are some chemotherapy side effects that might suggest it is rather killing you. 

  • Fatigue
  • Infection
  • Constipation
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Hair loss
  • Change in appetite
  • Anemia 
  • Vomiting and nausea 
  • Diarrhea
  • Change in weight
  • Fertility problems in women
  • Change in mood 
  • Change in sexual function
  • Chemo brain affecting concentration and focus 
  • Change in bladder and urine and kidney problem 
  • Change in nail skin  or dry skin 
  • Nerve problems 
  • Mouth sores 

Chemotherapy cost in India ranges from 600 USD – 1050 USD per cycle which is less compared to other western countries in the world. The cost of chemotherapy in Kenya is about 1364 USD while the surgery cost in Kenya is 1265 USD and radiotherapy cost about 1175 USD. 

Last words:

Chemotherapy is usually provided in conjunction with other therapies such as surgery and radiotherapy. Hence, it is difficult to tell the exact success rate of the chemotherapy treatment alone. Many other factors influence treatment progress, including age, overall health, cancer form, stage, and other factors. The question arises is – Does chemotherapy cure cancer? Yes, it has a better chance of curing or controlling cancer.

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