Goals of Chemotherapy

Goals of Chemotherapy treatment

When your doctor has prescribed Chemotherapy as an option to cure your cancer, while making medical choices, it is important to consider the goals of the procedure. Chemotherapy (chemo) has three main goals in cancer treatment:

  • Cure
  • Control
  • Palliation


Whenever possible, chemo is used to cure cancer, ensuring that the cancer is destroyed it goes away and does not come back. Most doctors use the word “cure” only as a possible or expected result of treatment. So when offering treatment that may have a chance of curing a person’s cancer, the doctor might describe it as a curative-intentioned treatment.

Though cure can be the goal in these circumstances and is the expectation of those who have cancer, this is not always the way it turns out. Knowing that a person’s cancer is truly cured often takes several years.


When a cure is not achievable, Chemotherapy may try to control the disease. Chemo is used in such situations to shrink tumours and/or avoid the development and spread of cancer. This can help cancer patients feel better and live longer.

The cancer does not go away entirely in many cases, but it is monitored and treated as a chronic condition, much like heart disease or diabetes. The cancer can go away for a while in many cases but it is likely to come back.


Chemo may also be used to relieve cancer-caused symptoms. It is called palliation, or palliative chemotherapy, or palliative-intentioned therapy.

If the cancer is at an advanced stage, it is unlikely that it can be controlled. The goal of chemo can be to improve the quality of life or to help the person feel better. Chemo, for example, can help shrink a tumour that causes Pain or pressure so that the patient feels better and has less Pain.

It is important to note that palliative care treatment is used to alleviate symptoms or improve comfort. Anti-nausea or Pain medications, for example, are palliative, and can be used at all levels of treatment. When chemo is used as a palliative treatment it can be confusing, because it is most often used to try to cure or control cancer. But when used with the comfort target, chemo is a part of a programme for palliative care.