Do all cancers require chemotherapy?

Mark A. O'Rourke, MD
Hematology & Oncology
No, but chemotherapy is quite useful in many situations. For cancers of the breast, colon, lung, and pancreas, chemotherapy is sometimes added to surgical therapy to improve the chances that a person will remain cancer free. This is called adjuvant therapy.
For some cancers of the white blood cells, called lymphoma, chemotherapy (sometimes with radiation therapy) is very effective at achieving complete remission.  If a person with cancer achieves complete remission, lives a long life, and dies of old age, then we can say they were cured by their chemotherapy.
For more information, I recommend three excellent websites for the public: the American Cancer Society (, the National Cancer Institute (, and the American Society for Clinical Oncology (
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Chemotherapy, often just called chemo, can be used for many reasons including: keeping cancer from spreading, slowing its growth, killing cancer cells that spread to other parts of the body and/or as a curative treatment. In certain types of cancers, including prostate, often removal of the cancerous tumor and some adjacent tissue will provide a cure. In other types of cancer, chemotherapy may be used in combination with surgical treatment, radiation and/or lymph node removal.
There are many factors that determine whether chemotherapy is necessary for your cancer treatment – these factors include: the type of cancer, cancer stage, your overall health, any prior cancer treatments and your individual treatment goals/preferences.
Penn Medicine
Not all cancers require chemotherapy. For example, skin cancer may be surgically removed and require no further treatment. Some cancer may be better treated with radiation and/or surgery. Other cancer, such as leukemia, may require chemotherapy, or a combination or chemotherapy and other biologic therapies.
Chemotherapy drugs work by attacking cancer cells and slowing or stopping the cell's ability to grow and multiply. Cancer cells go through many steps to grow. There are many types of chemotherapy drugs and each interferes with cell growth at a different step. Certain chemotherapy drugs are given only for certain diseases.
Shelby A. Terstriep, MD
No not all cancers require chemotherapy.
It depends on the where the cancer originated and what the stage of the cancer is and whether that type of cancer is killed by chemotherapy.
Over 50% of all people being treated for cancer receive chemotherapy, which can be given in various ways. Chemotherapy may be used alone or provided before, after, and in some cases during cancer surgery, or in combination with radiation therapy.

Continue Learning about Chemotherapy For Cancer

Chemotherapy For Cancer

Chemotherapy For Cancer

One of three common treatments for cancer, chemotherapy uses drugs to kill or slow down the progression of cancer cells. Different chemotherapy drugs are used for different types of cancers and can be combined with other treatment...

s, like radiation therapy or surgery. Chemotherapy often causes side effects, such as fatigue, nausea and mouth sores. Most side effects subside after treatment ends; however, some side effects can develop late in treatment and cause long-lasting issues, such as heart and kidney problems, or damage to nerve and lung tissue. Make sure to talk to your oncologist early about these potential side effects. To prepare for chemotherapy, ask your doctor for tests to check your heart and liver functions to make sure you are healthy enough to undergo treatment. Once you're ready for treatment, you may receive the drugs intravenously through a port in your chest, orally by taking a pill or through an injection into a muscle.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.