Cancer Treatment Overview

Cancer Treatment Overview

May 18
11:53 2017

When a patient is diagnosed
with cancer, his or her treatment options usually depend on several
factors–the type of cancer, the stage of cancer, and the general health, age
and preferences of the patient. Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy
are the three main types of cancer treatment that have been practiced for
years. Depending on the patient’s situation, two of these treatments, or all
three may be combined to make the treatment more effective. Other treatment
options are available, but are generally specific to each type of cancer and
may only be available in clinical trial settings. For example, hormone therapy
is generally only used to treat breast and prostate cancer because the causes
of these cancers have been linked to a person’s hormonal levels. The following
are the most common forms of treatments that can be used after a patient is
diagnosed with cancer.


Surgery is one of the most essential forms of cancer treatments available. If
cancer has been found at an early enough stage, surgery is usually the most
viable treatment option for patients to choose. Cancer surgery can either be
invasive or non-invasive and patients should talk to their doctors to discuss
the procedure, what it involves and all the possible outcomes. Surgery can play
several different roles in a patient’s treatment plan, including shrinking the
tumor, relieving pain, and even can contribute to diagnosis. During cancer
surgery doctors may aim to:

cancer by removing tissue thought to be precancerous.

cancer through a surgical biopsy.

cancer by removing the tumor and surrounding tissues.

Debulk a
tumor by removing only a portion of it.

a region of a patient’s body that has been destroyed by the tumor itself or
cancer surgery.

Risks of Surgery

Although surgery can be quite effective in treating a patient, there are many
risks that come with it. For instance, excessive bleeding can occur, though
this risk is subsided by blood transfusions that have been stored prior to
surgery from the patient. A more serious risk can include damage to surrounding
organs or blood vessels during difficult invasive procedures. The time after
surgery is also a crucial time during which a patient begins to make a recovery
from the surgery. The time of recovery generally depends on the type of surgery
performed and the patient’s overall health. Technology has allowed doctors to
perform less invasive surgeries and even though they limit a surgeon’s options,
they allow patients to recover quicker.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that utilizes high-energy x-ray
beams targeted at cancer cells. These x-rays are strong enough to cause cancer
cells to rapidly divide and ultimately destroying their genetic information,
causing them to die. In most cases, radiation therapy is not designed to
destroy the entire structure of a tumor. Instead, radiation therapy is used to
prevent cancer from metastasizing (spreading) into other parts of the body. It
may also be used as a treatment before surgery to shrink the tumor and increase
the chance of a successful surgery.

Risks of Radiation Therapy

Since radiation therapy uses dangerous radio waves, there are several side effects that will arise
from the treatment. Tumors are the main focal point to the treatment, though
normal healthy cells may also become damaged from its effects. For instance,
the area being exposed to the radiation may become sensitive, nausea, and
diarrhea may occur. Other side effects may be location-specific. For example,
radiation therapy delivered to the abdomen area may cause gastrointestinal
problems. Radiation therapy improvement is currently being heavily researched
to make the treatment more accurate so that only tumor cells are destroyed in
the process.


Among the most widely used forms of cancer treatment in the world is
chemotherapy. It utilizes special drugs that have been developed to target
cells which rapidly divide inside the body. These cells are the most sensitive
to any changes that occur and will usually be killed by the chemotherapy drugs.
Since most tumor cells rapidly grow and divide, they are a prime target for
these chemotherapy drugs, which alter the tumor cells’ ability to divide and
produce enzymes, resulting in their death. Chemotherapy drugs are generally
administered either by a slow-drip IV hookup or orally, and many forms of the
treatment use a combination of several drugs, making them more effective.
Chemotherapy can be used in conjunction with other types of cancer treatments,
usually with either radiation therapy or surgery.

Risks and Side Effects

Chemotherapy is known for the apparent side effects it causes to patients. As
the drugs circulate a patient’s body, normal healthy cells are destroyed in
addition to the tumor cells. These healthy cells have a natural tendency to
divide and grow rapidly, making them a target for the chemotherapy drugs. These
cells are usually located in the hair follicles, bone marrow and several other
regions of the body. As a result, side effects can include hair loss, and low
production of blood cells which can lead to fatigue, higher risk of infection
and excessive bleeding.


Immunotherapy is a biological therapy that is designed to use a person’s
natural immune defense system to fight disease. The immune system of a person
is designed to seek out and destroy foreign substances called antigens that
find their way inside the body. Researchers have discovered that cancer cells
exhibit antigen characteristics, which may trigger an immune response, though
this response is rarely powerful enough alone to shrink the tumor. As a result
of these findings, researchers have begun discovering new ways to
“equip” the immune system with the ability to fight cancer cells
effectively. They are also discovering ways in which antibodies (defense
mechanisms of the immune system) can be grown inside a lab and injected into
cancer patients to attack cancer cells. Some of this research has also
experimented with attaching toxins to the antibodies to be delivered to cancer
cells in order to kill them quickly and efficiently.


Very few immunotherapy drugs have reached advanced stages of research and even
fewer have been approved by the FDA for standard treatment. Most immunotherapy
methods are currently only in clinical trial stages with their effectiveness as
an adjuvant treatment being tested. Also, immunotherapy seems to only be
effective for tumors that have been found in their early stages. Researchers
are still developing new methods that would prove to be more useful for cancers
that have advanced to later stages.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy is a developing form of cancer treatment that is still in
heavy research phases. The main goal of targeted therapy is to attack and
destroy cancer cells, while leaving normal healthy cells intact and undamaged.
Though it is not in wide use for cancer patients, researchers are hoping that
this treatment will one day replace chemotherapy by making up for
chemotherapy’s shortcomings. Many forms of
targeted therapy which are being researched involve gene therapy to stimulate
the immune system of a patient (immunotherapy), or injecting a special chemical
into the bloodstream, designed only to attack tumor cells.


Targeted therapy, while still in its early stages, is showing quite a lot of
promise to researchers. The side effects are less severe than chemotherapy and
radiation therapy and the results from clinical trials have been making
progress. However, there is still much work to be done in understanding the
behavior of immune systems and tumor cells. The key to perfecting targeted
therapy is DNA research and understanding the nature of tumor cells to discover
their weaknesses.

Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy is a method of medical treatment that involves altering the
levels of hormones inside a patient’s body. While hormone therapy is generally
used to treat certain kinds of medical conditions, it is also used to treat two
specific types of cancer–breast cancer and prostate cancer. These two types of
cancer are caused by the production of gender-specific hormones that are
released in the body to regulate growth and other functions. In men, testosterone,
a hormone whose primary source comes from the testicles, is a contributor to
the development of prostate cancer and its continued growth. In women, breast
cancer is caused by a hormone produced by the ovaries called estrogen. Hormone
therapy is useful in the treatment of these two cancers because it stops the
production of these hormones to slow and halt the growth of tumors.

Side Effects

One of the major drawbacks of hormone therapy is the many side effects that
comes with it. Reducing the production and use of hormones inside the human
body can often have significant and unpredictable consequences. In men, hormone
therapy to treat prostate cancer can cause a loss in muscle mass, development
of larger breasts, depression, fatigue, and loss of sexual desire. In women,
halting production of estrogen can lead to increased muscle mass, growth of
hair, a deeper voice, fatigue, and early menopause. Many of these side effects
can be quite severe, and as a result, additional medication is given to
counteract those side effects. Hormone therapy is very controversial and many
doctors disagree with the methods of treatment and their safety.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Thousands of years ago, early civilizations used the natural chemicals and
antioxidants found in plants and minerals to help treat and heal illness.
Hydrotherapy and the use of hot springs helped patients as well. Today, these
forms of treatment are still practiced by the majority of the world’s
population, though they are referred to in the western world as complementary
and alternative medicine. They are considered highly unconventional and are
mostly based on spiritual beliefs rather than scientific evidence. Alternative
medicine to treat cancer are based highly on herbalism, a medicine practice
that uses plant extracts and other natural substances to treat illness and
restore energy to a sick individual. Alternative medicine also places a heavy
emphasis on meditation and spiritual healing to gain a better insight about an
existence of a greater reality after death. This helps patients cope with their
cancer and the emotions he or she may feel while experiencing it. Many people
in the western world are using alternative medicine in addition to
scientifically proven treatments. They use it as a “complementary”


While alternative medicine is found to be quite useful for millions of people
around the world who have cancer and can help patients deal with the emotions
of having such a terrifying disease, there is no scientific evidence that
suggests it helps a person physically. There are many people, however, that
would rather seek peace of mind through alternative medicine rather than
fighting a long and hard battle through western scientific methods.

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