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Understanding adjuvant chemotherapy

A crucial step in the fight against cancer


Adjuvant chemotherapy, also known as preventative chemotherapy, stands as a vital component in the comprehensive treatment of cancer which may include the administration of chemotherapeutic agents after the primary treatment, typically surgery, to eliminate any remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of recurrence (Osorio, M. et al., 2020). Dr Karisha Quarrie, Life Healthcare’s Head of Clinical Directorate, explains the significance of this post-surgery therapy in safeguarding against cancer recurrence and enhancing patient survival rates.

Dr Quarrie clarifies that the term "preventative chemotherapy" is colloquially used to describe adjuvant chemotherapy, highlighting its role in preventing cancer recurrence following primary treatment. Adjuvant chemotherapy serves a key role in cancer care by targeting residual cancer cells that may linger after primary treatment, typically surgery (Osorio, M. et al., 2020). Dr Quarrie emphasises that these residual cells, though often undetectable through clinical means, pose a significant risk for cancer recurrence. Administering adjuvant chemotherapy helps eliminate these cells, thereby reducing the likelihood of cancer returning.

"The primary goal of adjuvant chemotherapy is to treat potential microscopic disease that may evade detection during initial treatment," explains Dr Quarrie. "By eradicating these residual cancer cells, we aim to prevent recurrence and improve long-term outcomes for patients."

The decision to pursue adjuvant therapy, whether it involves chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or hormonal therapy, depends on various factors. Dr Quarrie underscores the importance of considering the primary cancer diagnosis, stage, tumour characteristics, and patient-specific factors when determining the appropriate course of treatment.

The optimal approach to adjuvant therapy depends on the person’s diagnosis and specific cancer therapy needs. Dr Quarrie acknowledges that while some people may benefit from the combined use of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, whilst others may receive chemotherapy alone (Kamble 2024). "It's essential to critically evaluate the evidence and consider the individual needs of each patient when determining the most appropriate treatment approach," advises Dr Quarrie. "The goal is to achieve the best possible outcomes while minimising potential side effects and complications."

In some cases, adjuvant treatment involves chemotherapy following surgery. Dr Quarrie underscores that adjuvant therapy can encompass various modalities, including radiation and hormonal treatments, tailored to the specific characteristics of the cancer and the individual patient's needs. "In essence, adjuvant chemotherapy serves as an additional line of defence against cancer recurrence," explains Dr Quarrie. "By targeting residual cancer cells and potential microscopic disease, it helps reduce the risk of relapse and improves long-term survival."

"Adjuvant therapy must be tailored to each patient's unique circumstances," says Dr Quarrie. "Factors such as tumour type, size, location, and biological features influence the choice of therapy and its potential effectiveness."

Chemotherapy, a key component of adjuvant treatment, can be administered orally or intravenously, with the specific regimen customised to suit individual patient needs. Dr Quarrie points out that while chemotherapy may entail side effects that could include but is not limited to fatigue, nausea, and hair loss, its benefits in reducing the risk of cancer recurrence are well-documented.

"Despite its side effects, adjuvant chemotherapy has been shown to significantly improve survival rates across various cancer types," notes Dr Quarrie. "For many patients, the potential benefits outweigh the temporary discomfort associated with treatment."

Therefore, adjuvant chemotherapy plays a crucial role in the comprehensive management of cancer, offering significant benefits in reducing the risk of recurrence and improving long-term survival rates. As research advances and treatment strategies evolve, it's imperative to individualise adjuvant therapy plans to optimise outcomes and enhance overall patient care.

“With its ability to target residual cancer cells and mitigate the risk of recurrence, adjuvant chemotherapy stands as a beacon of hope in the fight against cancer, offering renewed optimism for patients and caregivers alike” concludes Dr Quarrie. 

Visit our Life Oncology webpage for more information on cancer and our oncology services. 

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a healthcare professional. E&OE. Life Healthcare Group Ltd does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage suffered by the reader as a result of the information provided.


Osorio, M. et al., 2020. Recent Advances in Polymer Nanomaterials for Drug Delivery of Adjuvants in Colorectal Cancer Treatment: A Scientific-Technological Analysis and Review.  Molecules, 25(10), p.2270. Available at:

Kamble, N. A,  Waghmode, D. M. &  Jain, S.  2024. Impact of Chemotherapeutic Drug on People living with Cancer. International Research Journal of Modernization in Engineering Technology and Science. Available at: