When we hear the term chemotherapy, we tend to think of an ongoing treatment for cancer. While this is true, chemotherapy is any treatment that introduces a chemical substance into the body to destroy a pathogenic microorganism. The chemical substance is a chemotherapeutic agent.
The chemotherapeutic agent must do two things. First, it must only cause minimal damage (or no damage) to host tissues. A host is the term scientists use to refer to the patient who is receiving chemotherapy; host tissues are tissues of the patient's body. This simply means that the chemotherapeutic agent must not injure the patient or, if there is injury, that the injury is minimal and the patient's body will regenerate the destroyed tissues once chemotherapy is finished.
The second thing that the chemotherapeutic agent must do is to destroy the pathogenic microorganism that is causing the disease. The way in which a chemotherapeutic agent destroys a pathogenic microorganism is called the chemotherapeutic agent's action. The pathogenic microorganism that is attacked by the chemotherapeutic agent is called the chemotherapeutic agent's target.
There is generally one of two actions that a chemotherapeutic agent takes when combating a target. One is to kill the pathogenic microorganism outright, which is referred to as bactericidal action. The other is to inhibit the growth of the pathogenic microorganism, which is called bacteriostatic action. You'll learn more about bactericidal and bacteriostatic throughout this chapter.
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