Merck Manual

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Quick Facts

Combination Cancer Therapy


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Sep 2019| Content last modified Sep 2019
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What is combination cancer therapy?

Combination cancer therapy is when doctors treat your cancer with more than one type of treatment. The combination may be a mix of surgery, radiation therapy (uses high energy to shrink cancer tumors and destroy cancer cells), and chemotherapy (medicines to destroy cancer cells).

  • Doctors may give you several types of chemotherapy medicine at once (combination chemotherapy)—each medicine works differently to destroy your cancer cells, so they destroy more cancer cells together

  • Doctors may also treat your cancer with several types of treatment—for example, both chemotherapy and surgery

  • Doctors decide whether to use single or combination therapy depending on your stage and type of cancer

Why do doctors use combination cancer therapy?

  • Some cancers can’t be treated with just surgery or radiation therapy

  • Surgery or radiation therapy can treat a tumor in one part of your body, while chemotherapy treats cancer cells that have spread to other parts of your body

  • Radiation therapy or chemotherapy can shrink your tumor before surgery, so less of it has to be cut out

  • After surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy can help destroy cancer cells that a surgeon couldn't remove

  • Combination chemotherapy can help lengthen your life and lessen your symptoms

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