Cancer Treatments Explained

There are a variety of cancer treatments available. Although there are hundreds of different types of cancer, many can be treated using the same methods.


Cancer treatments include chemotherapy

Chemotherapy, often referred to as chemo, is a method that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs are sometimes given on their own, but more often, patients are given a combination of chemotherapy drugs.

In some cases, other drug treatments, such as biological therapy, are combined with chemotherapy.

There are now many different types of chemotherapy, and chemotherapy drug combinations, used to treat more than 200 different cancer types.

The drugs one person receives may be completely different than the drugs prescribed to someone else. Even if two people are given the exact same drugs, the way each person's body reacts could be very different.

Radiation Therapy

Low doses of radiation are usually associated with things like X-rays. For cancer treatments, radiation is used in higher doses to kill cancer cells. The radiation continually damages the cancer cells, not giving them a chance to repair themselves between treatments, so they eventually disappear.

Healthy cells, however, are able to repair and replace themselves in between the daily radiation treatments.

Although normal cells and cancer cells react differently to the radiation therapy, it is impossible to destroy the cancer cells without causing damage to some normal cells, as well.

The goal is to apply enough radiation to kill cancer cells, but not too much so that normal cells will still be able to recover. A radiation plan is developed based on:

  • where the cancer is and the size of the tumor
  • the type of cancer
  • the stage of the cancer
  • the possible side effects
  • the overall health of the patient

Hormonal Drug Therapy

The body makes hormones, but scientists can also make hormones artificially. They move through the blood stream and control how certain cells act or grow.

Hormonal drug therapy will often be used in addition to other treatments, or before or after other cancer treatments.

Biological Therapy

This type of treatment works with the immune system. The immune system is made up of cells and organs working together to protect the body from contracting infections and diseases.

A properly-functioning immune system is able to tell the difference between healthy, normal cells and those that potentially cause harm.

Targeted Therapy

In targeted therapy, drugs are used to attack specific molecules that feed the cancer cell and help it grow. These cancer treatment drugs prevent the cell from growing and spreading, without causing too much damage to normal cells.

With targeted therapy, different types of drugs are used:

  • Tyrosine kinase are inhibitors that can block certain cancer feeding proteins
  • Apoptosis-inducing drugs can help to kill off cancer cells. They also help make chemotherapy more effective
  • Hormonal drug therapy is a type of targeted therapy since it attacks cancer cells associated with specific hormones
  • Biological therapy is considered targeted therapy because it uses the immune system to find and destroy specific cancer cells

Alternative Cancer Therapies

Cancer patients have the right to choose whether or not to use alternative therapies. Anyone considering an alternative therapy, either during or after conventional treatments, should be sure to make an informed decision.

An informed and safe decision means:

  • understanding the differences between conventional, alternative, integrative and complementary treatments
  • researching all of the details, benefits and possible risks of alternative treatments
  • discussing all the details, including how alternative treatments may affect current treatments and care, with cancer healthcare professionals

Cancer Surgery

Cancer surgery can be effective in some cases

Theoretically, non-hematological cancers are curable if completely removed by surgery. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. Often the cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body before the surgery, making complete surgical removal impossible.

Generally, cancer begins in one location and then spreads to the lymph nodes, and then to other parts of the body.

This progression has increased the popularity of location specific treatments such as surgery. Even small tumors are recognized as having the potential to metastasize.

Surgical procedures include mastectomy, prostatectomy and lung cancer surgery. The goal is to either remove just the tumor, or the entire organ.

The naked eye cannot see a single cancer cell, meaning that if it is not removed, it can grow into a new tumor. This is why the pathologist examines the removed tumor to determine if there is a hint of healthy tissue, thereby decreasing the possibility of leaving a microscopic cancer cell in the patient.

Patients are often given more than one type of cancer treatments, depending on how they react, how far the disease has progressed, and what type of cancer they have.

DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is presented as information only. It is not intended to supplement or replace professional medical advice. If you suspect that you are suffering from cancer or any other illness, then you should see a qualified doctor as soon as possible. In case of medical emergency, contact your emergency services immediately.

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