Statistics show chemotherapy advances have improved patient outcomes like life expectancy and survival. Chemotherapy does this by killing cancer cells. Doctors may use it as a first-line treatment for many different cancers. Continued cancer research may find other chemo drugs that help patients.

Note: This page contains statistics gleaned from large groups of patients. These statistics cannot forecast a single patient’s cancer experience or the success of any given treatment. Patients should discuss all cancer screening and treatment decisions with an experienced oncologist.


01. Chemotherapy Treatment Statistics

Chemotherapy Treatment and Use Statistics

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. These drugs affect cells as they divide, slowing tumor growth. Doctors can administer the treatment in different ways:

  • Depending on the type of cancer, patients may take chemo drugs in pill form.
  • Healthcare professionals may also recommend systemic chemo. With this form of cancer therapy, the drugs go into an intravenous line (IV) and circulate through the body.
  • Another option is a targeted treatment, such as heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC). This treatment delivers chemo drugs directly to the affected area of the body.

Statistics show 25% of cancer patients receive chemo each year in the United States. Of that 25%, the delivery method varies.

Chemotherapy Use by Cancer Type

Chemotherapy is one of the most common first-line cancer treatments. First-line therapy is the first treatment given in cancer cases.

Chemo drugs may be given with other types of therapy, too. When chemo is combined with another treatment, like surgery or radiotherapy, it is called a multimodal treatment. How doctors give chemo to patients depends on the type of cancer and each patient’s specific case.

This section breaks down the chemo use statistics for:

  • Breast cancer
  • Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
  • Prostate cancer
  • Mesothelioma

Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Use Statistics

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that affects breast tissue. It is one of the most common cancers. About 266,000 people get a breast cancer diagnosis each year in the United States.

Doctors treat breast cancer with surgery, chemotherapy or other treatments. Doctors may also use a combination of treatments. The way doctors use chemotherapy for breast cancer depends on many factors. For example, they may consider the stage of cancer when personalizing a treatment plan.

Breast Cancer Treatment Usage by Stage

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Chemotherapy Use Statistics

NSCLC is a slow-growing cancer originating in the lung tissue. It is the most common type of lung cancer in the United States, with more than 190,000 new cases expected in 2023.

Doctors treat NSCLC with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery or a combination of these treatments. Statistics show using chemotherapy for NSCLC is more common in late-stage cases.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment Use by Stage

Prostate Cancer Chemotherapy Use Statistics

Prostate cancer develops in a gland called the prostate. Only men have this gland, which plays an essential role in reproduction. In the United States, new cases of prostate cancer reached more than 224,000 in 2019.

Treatments available for prostate cancer include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Statistics show that doctors commonly choose chemotherapy as a first-line treatment for prostate cancer.

Chemotherapy Use for Metastatic Prostate Cancer

Mesothelioma Cancer Chemotherapy Use Statistics

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that may be treated with chemotherapy. This rare cancer affects the thin lining surrounding some organs. It may develop in the lining around the lungs, the abdominal cavity, the heart or the testes. Mesothelioma statistics show roughly 3,000 new cases and 2,500 deaths per year in the United States.

Over the years, doctors and researchers have done significant work to improve mesothelioma treatment options. Mesothelioma chemotherapy and immunotherapy drugs are common systemic treatments. Statistically, systemic treatments are more common than other treatments for mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma Treatment Combinations by Tumor Location

Chart showing mesothelioma treatment combinations by tumor location.

Source: Lung Cancer

Note: Systemic treatment may include chemotherapy or immunotherapy treatments.

02. Chemotherapy Survival Statistics

Chemotherapy Prognosis and Survival Rates

Studies show chemotherapy may extend life expectancy and survival rates for some patients. However, chemotherapy life expectancy extension depends on many factors. For example, the cancer type and stage may affect life expectancy.

How Effective Is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy may be an effective treatment option for many patients. For example, one study looked at stage 4 breast cancer patients treated with chemo, hormone therapy and surgery. They had a median survival of about 53 months. That means about half of them lived longer than 4.5 years.

In studies, chemo has extended cancer survival when combined with other treatments. For example, HIPEC is a targeted chemo treatment following surgery. Studies in patients with peritoneal mesothelioma show those who receive HIPEC had a median survival of 4.2 years. In other studies, patients treated with IV chemo had a median survival of about 1 year.

Chemotherapy Survival for Breast Cancer

Chemotherapy median survival for stage 4 breast cancer depends on the treatment regimen. Please note that previously presented data included all stages. The following chart only covers median survival for stage 4 breast cancer.

Stage 4 Breast Cancer Survival by Treatment Regimen

Note: Systemic therapy includes chemotherapy and endocrine therapy.

Metaplastic breast cancer (MBC) is a rare, aggressive type of cancer. In a study, patients who received chemo for MBC had a median survival of 12 months. Patients who did not receive chemo had a median survival of eight months.

Metaplastic Breast Cancer Survival With or Without Chemotherapy

Chart showing the median survival for MBC patients with and without chemotherapy.

Source: Cureus

Chemotherapy Survival for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Patients with NSCLC may benefit from chemotherapy. Additionally, research shows various combinations of chemo drugs may affect prognosis differently. For example, the data below shows the median survival for several different types of lung cancer and chemo drugs, like Alimta® (pemetrexed).

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Median Survivals by Chemotherapy Regimen and Cell Type

Chemotherapy Survival for Prostate Cancer

Chemo may benefit prostate cancer patients. In a study, median survival was better with chemo and androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), which is a type of hormone replacement.

Median Survival for Metastatic Castration-Sensitive Prostate Cancer by Treatment Regimen and Extent of Cancer

Chemotherapy Survival for Mesothelioma

Research shows chemotherapy can have an impact on mesothelioma survival rates. Typically, the mesothelioma prognosis without treatment is about six months. But different chemo regimens may improve median survival, according to research.

The following chart shows median survival for patients with pleural mesothelioma, which is the most common mesothelioma type.

03. Standard Chemotherapy by Type

Standard Chemotherapy Drugs by Cancer Type

Some chemotherapy drugs are better suited to treat certain cancers. Researchers have tested and refined these drugs through years of work. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) provides guidelines on which drugs to use for different cancers.

The following table shows some of the NCCN guidelines for some common cancers.

Standard Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Drugs

  • Xeloda® (capecitabine)
  • Doxorubicin
  • Halaven® (eribulin)
  • Gemcitabine
  • Abraxane® (paclitaxel)
  • Navelbine® (vinorelbine)

Standard NSCLC Chemotherapy Drugs

  • Carboplatin and paclitaxel alongside radiation
  • Carboplatin or cisplatin and pemetrexed alongside radiation
  • Carboplatin or cisplatin with paclitaxel, gemcitabine or pemetrexed
  • Cisplatin and etoposide alongside radiation
  • Cisplatin + gemcitabine or docetaxel
  • Cisplatin + pemetrexed

Standard Prostate Cancer Chemotherapy Drugs

  • Jevtana® (cabazitaxel) with or without carboplatin
  • Docetaxel
  • Novantrone® (mitoxantrone)

Standard Mesothelioma Cancer Chemotherapy Drugs

  • Pemetrexed + cisplatin or carboplatin with or without Avastin® (bevacizumab)

Continued research is critical for finding new and improved treatments for cancers. With additional research, doctors may discover more viable therapies.

How Has Chemotherapy Improved?

Research through clinical trials has advanced chemotherapy treatments. As doctors conduct studies, they find how effective drugs are against different cancers. Mesothelioma, for example, has benefited from drugs approved to treat different cancers.

One drug the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved to treat other cancers is Navelbine (vinorelbine). The FDA approved Navelbine to treat NSCLC. However, doctors use it to treat some cases of pleural mesothelioma. This is called off-label usage, which is a common medical practice.

Another example is gemcitabine. The FDA approved gemcitabine to treat some cancers. These include some forms of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, NSCLC and pancreatic cancer. The NCCN recommends it for some cases of pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma.

04. Costs of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy Costs

Chemotherapy costs can depend on many factors. Some of those factors include the drug type, length of time taking it and insurance coverage.

This chart shows examples of what an insurance company may pay for certain treatments. The costs provided here are from 2016. Prices for the current year may be higher based on inflation.

Costs Per Patient in the First Year After Diagnosis

These costs are the amounts paid by insurance providers. Patients may have had more out-of-pocket costs related to these services. Some studies show the cost of cancer treatment can become a financial burden. For victims of an asbestos-related disease, compensation options may be available.

Some studies also analyzed the cost of mesothelioma treatment. These costs may depend on the mesothelioma stage and location. For example, a doctor may recommend a six-cycle regimen of chemotherapy drugs. Research in 2017 showed if the doctor used Alimta and cisplatin, the costs totaled nearly $39,000. With inflation, the same regimen may cost substantially more in later years.

Costs of Treating Chemotherapy Side Effects

Patients may know about chemotherapy side effects and have concerns about them. Side effects vary depending on the type of chemo drugs a patient receives and the type of cancer. Fortunately, doctors have ways to help manage these side effects.

Depending on the side effects, doctors can recommend ways to manage them. For example, doctors may prescribe medications to relieve some side effects. The table below lists the costs for medicines used to manage common side effects.

Cost of Medications for Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects

Patients receiving cancer care should speak with their doctors about any side effects. If new side effects appear or existing side effects change, a doctor may be able to help.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

  • Changes to appetite
  • Chemo brain
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry skin
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Infection
  • Kidney and bladder problems
  • Low red blood cell counts (anemia)
  • Mood changes
  • Nausea
  • Nerve problems, like numbness, pain and tingling
  • Sexual dysfunction and fertility problems
  • Sores or pain in mouth or throat or on the tongue, making swallowing difficult
  • Vomiting
  • Weight gain or loss
05. Common Questions

Common Questions About Mesothelioma Chemotherapy

What are the chances of getting cancer after chemotherapy?

Cancer patients may see their tumors return after disappearing for some time. This cancer recurrence depends on many factors. Patients should speak with an experienced oncologist about cancer recurrence concerns. An oncologist can explain how cancer can return and how it affects patients.

Can chemotherapy cause other cancers?

Studies show some chemotherapy drugs may increase the risks of certain second cancers. Factors impacting this risk include the drug dose, intensity and treatment length. Chemo drugs tied to an elevated risk of second cancers include:

  • Busulfan
  • Carboplatin
  • Carmustine
  • Chlorambucil
  • Cisplatin
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Etoposide
  • Lomustine
  • Mechlorethamine
  • Melphalan
  • Mitoxantrone
  • Teniposide

Is chemotherapy the best treatment for cancer?

Chemotherapy is often a first-line treatment for cancer. Doctors use a first-line treatment before other therapies, such as surgery. Cancer treatment advances have led doctors to combine treatments. These plans may include surgery, chemo and immunotherapy drugs. These combinations have led to better outcomes for many patients.

Does chemotherapy reduce life expectancy?

In general, chemotherapy improves life expectancy rather than reducing it. Chemo also boosts survival rates and quality of life. For example, mesothelioma patients typically have a median survival of about six months without treatment. However, patients taking Alimta and cisplatin have a life expectancy of about 12 months.