In Boston, 1947, Dr. Sidney Farber experimented with a drug called aminopterin to treat children with acute lymphocytic leukemia. To his amazement, the drug killed malignant cells and produced temporary remissions. The modern era of chemotherapy was born.

Chemotherapy refers to the use of cytotoxic drugs to destroy cancer cells. This treatment can cure or control many types of cancers.

The drugs are derived from either naturally occurring compounds, such as plant matter, or from chemical synthesis. They can be used in combination with surgery and radiation, called adjuvant therapy, or in combination with other drugs. Today, researchers are exploring new treatments that are even more effective with reduced side effects.

Chemotherapy typically targets all rapidly dividing cells, not cancer cells specifically, so the treatment can damage healthy tissue. Since the 1990s, new cancer treatments known as targeted therapy have reduced this risk. One type of targeted therapy is biologics, a form of biotechnology.

Learn about biotechnology.