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What is Palliative Chemotherapy?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 17, 2024
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Palliative chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment. Unlike the regular chemotherapy treatment used for most cancer patients, palliative chemotherapy is done without the intention of curing the patient. Instead, palliative chemotherapy is used to help shrink tumors and reduce a patient’s cancer-related symptoms. Essentially it is used to help a patient enjoy greater comfort in his last days and maybe even extend his life.

Chemotherapy is a treatment that employs a chemical agent to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells. The chemical agent the doctor uses depends on a number of factors, including the type of cancer, the extent to which it has spread, the ultimate goal of the treatment, and the overall health status of the patient. Chemotherapy may be administered in pill form, through a vein, or even via the application of a chemical agent to a person’s skin.

A doctor may recommend chemotherapy to help prevent the recurrence of cancer or even control a developed tumor. Often, chemotherapy is used as part of a treatment plan for saving a patient’s life. Unfortunately, however, some people have cancer that has progressed so far that doctor’s think survival is unlikely. In such a case, a doctor may recommend palliative chemotherapy to slow down or stop tumor growth or even shrink cancers. Though this may not save the patient, the idea is that chemotherapy may help make the end of his life more comfortable.

Palliative chemotherapy may help shrink tumors enough to help control the pain a patient may feel when dealing with the progression of cancer. Once the tumors have shrunk, a patient may also feel less fatigue. In some cases, palliative chemotherapy may help a patient stay mobile and experience an improved quality of life. It may also help improve the patient’s general sense of well-being, as steps are still being taken to fight his cancer.

Unfortunately, palliative chemotherapy can also produce unpleasant symptoms. For example, a patient undergoing it may have hair loss, taste and appetite changes, sexual dysfunction, constipation, diarrhea, and vomiting. A person undergoing chemotherapy may also experience fatigue and the depression of his immune system that makes him more vulnerable to infections.

Deciding whether or not to undergo palliative chemotherapy is typically left up to the patient, though his doctor may offer a recommendation. Some people opt for it to have a chance at living even a little longer. Others may prefer to use different methods of staying comfortable in their final days, avoiding chemotherapy’s side effects.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison , Writer
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

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Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison


Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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