If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, then it’s helpful to understand the different types of cancer treatments that may be available for you.
Why Cancer Treatment is Important
Cancer will not heal on its own, so medical treatment is the only way to fight the disease. Once you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, it’s important to begin cancer treatment as soon as possible.
Some patients may delay starting cancer treatment because they’re worried about the side effects. Certainly, there are some cancer treatments that may cause debilitating side effects such as fatigue, body aches, and loss of hair. However, when you delay cancer treatment you’re allowing more time for the cancerous cells to spread to other parts of your body, which makes the cancer more difficult to treat.
Even if you’re suffering from an advanced stage of cancer, it’s usually best to begin treatment right away to increase the likelihood your cancer treatment will be a success.
Is There a Cure for Cancer?
Unfortunately, there’s no drug, vaccine, or treatment method that instantly cures all forms of cancer. However, there are a variety of effective treatment methods that can be used depending on which type of cancer you have. The cancer survival rate is improving, which is a testament to the advances being made in cancer treatment.
Cancer Treatment Approaches
There are many different approaches to cancer treatment:
- Neoadjuvant Therapy: Treatment given prior to surgery to shrink the size of the tumor to make patients better surgical candidates.
- Primary Therapy: Also called first-line therapy, the first treatment given for a disease. It is often a part of a standard set of treatments. For example, it may be surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
- Adjuvant Therapy: Typically a short course of treatment given to patients after primary therapy to destroy any residual (microscopic) cancer cells to prevent the cancer from returning.
- Maintenance Therapy: Treatment done after primary therapy to prevent the cancer from returning. This may be done over a longer period of time.
- Palliative Therapy: Treatment done to alleviate the symptoms caused by cancer when a cure is unlikely.
- Induction Therapy: Treatment given to induce a remission. This term is most commonly used for head and neck and blood cancers.
- Consolidation Therapy: Treatment given once a remission is achieved to prolong remission. This term is most commonly used for blood cancers.
Types of Cancer Treatment
Here are the most common types of cancer treatment. Remember that doctors may use one or several different treatment methods, often concurrently.
- Surgery: Surgery is used to remove the primary cancer tumor and any other cancerous mass in your body. Doctors may also use surgery to remove tissues that contain cancerous cells.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy employs drugs that kill rapidly-growing cells (i.e. cancer cells). The drugs can be administered orally or through I.V. Typically, the patient will take the drugs over a short period of days, followed by a period rest and allow the body to recover.
- Radiation Therapy: There are different types of radiation therapy. External beam radiation therapy is a process where high-energy beams (like X-rays and protons) are provided by a machine to kill cancer cells. Brachytherapy is a process by which seeds or capsules that contain a radiation source are placed inside your body for localized tumor treatment. Another form of internal radiation therapy is systemic therapy where a radioisotope, such as radioactive iodine, is given intravenously, orally, or other route.
- Radiofrequency Ablation: In radiofrequency ablation, a doctor places a needle into the cancerous tissue, either through the skin or via incision. High energy radio waves are passed through the needle, which heats up the cancer cells and causes them to die.
- Cryoablation: In cryoablation, a thin probe is inserted into the cancerous tissue. Gas is pumped through the probe, which freezes the tissue. The tissue is allowed to thaw, and then frozen again, and the cycle of freezing and thawing is repeated several times during the session. The freezing process kills cancer cells.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is a variety of treatments that aims to use your body’s immune system to fight the cancer cells. In many forms of cancer, the body’s defenses are unable to recognize cancer cells so they won’t attack them. Immunotherapy helps the immune system distinguish between normal cells and cancer cells so they generate an immune response.
- Hormone Therapy: Some types of cancer thrive on the hormones in your body and use them to grow. Hormone therapy focuses on either removing the hormones from your body or mitigating the effects of hormones so the cancer cannot multiply as rapidly.
- Stem Cell Transplant (SCT): There are two major types of transplants used for the treatment of cancer. Autologous SCT where a patient’s own healthy stem cells are harvested and reinfused after high-dose chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Also, allogeneic SCT where the stem cells are from a donor. After high-dose chemotherapy or radiation therapy is used to kill cancer cells, the healthy stem cells replace the patient’s own stem cells to produce newly healthy blood cells.
- Targeted Drug Therapy: Targeted therapy refers to a variety of cancer treatments that interfere with specific genes or proteins that cancer cells use to grow.
- Clinical Trials: There are thousands of clinical trials underway that are testing experimental cancer drugs and treatment methods. It might be nerve wracking to participate in a clinical study, but don’t forget that cancer drugs must undergo a significant amount of research and testing before they even reach the clinical trial stage. Speak with your doctor about whether or not it might be the right option for you.
Cancer Treatment Clinical Trials
Clinical trials essential in developing new and more effective cancer treatments. If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, your doctor may inform you if you’re eligible to take part in a clinical trial. Your doctor can address your questions and concerns so you know exactly what to expect.
If you’re unable to take part in a clinical trial, or don’t feel like it’s the best option for you, you can still support cancer research by making a donation to fund clinical trials.