Different Types of Cancer Treatments
There are many types of cancer treatment. The types of treatment that you receive will depend on the type of cancer you have and how advanced it is.
Some people with cancer will have only one cancer treatment. But most people have a combination of cancer treatments, such as surgery with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. When you need treatment for cancer, you have a lot to learn and think about. It is normal to feel overwhelmed and confused. But, talking with your doctor and learning about the types of cancer treatment you may have can help you feel more in control.
The goal of cancer treatment is to achieve a cure for your cancer, allowing you to live a normal life span. This may or may not be possible, depending on your specific situation. If a treatment isn't possible, your treatments may be used to shrink your cancer or slow the growth of your cancer to allow you to live symptom free for as long as possible.
Cancer treatments may be used as:
- Primary cancer treatment. The goal of a primary treatment is to completely remove the cancer from your body or kill all the cancer cells.
Any cancer treatment can be used as a primary treatment, but the most common primary cancer treatment for the most common types of cancer is surgery. If your cancer is particularly sensitive to radiation therapy or chemotherapy, you may receive one of those therapies as your primary treatment for cancer.
- Adjuvant cancer treatment. The goal of adjuvant cancer treatment is to kill any cancer cells that may remain after primary cancer treatment in order to reduce the chance that the cancer will recur.
Any cancer treatment can be used as an adjuvant cancer treatment. Common adjuvant cancer treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy.
Neoadjuvant therapy is similar, but treatments are used before the primary cancer treatment in order to make the primary cancer treatment easier or more effective.
- Palliative cancer treatment. Palliative cancer treatment may help relieve side effects of treatment or signs and symptoms caused by cancer itself. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormone therapy can all be used to relieve symptoms. Other medications may relieve symptoms such as pain and shortness of breath.
Palliative cancer treatment can be used at the same time as other cancer treatments intended to cure your cancer.
Surgery as cancer treatment
The goal of surgery as a cancer treatment is to remove the cancer or as much of the cancer as possible. When used to treat cancer, surgery is a procedure in which a surgeon removes cancer from your body.
Surgeons often use small, thin knives, called scalpels, and other sharp tools to cut your body during surgery. Surgery often requires cuts through skin, muscles, and sometimes bone. After surgery, these cuts can be painful and take some time to heal.
There are many types of surgery. The types differ based on the purpose of the surgery, the part of the body that requires surgery, the amount of tissue to be removed, and, in some cases, what the patient prefers. Surgery may be open or minimally invasive.
Radiation Therapy as cancer treatment
Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses electrical energy to heat cancer cells, causing them to die. During radiofrequency ablation, a doctor guides a thin needle through the skin or through an incision and into the cancer tissue. High-frequency energy passes through the needle and causes the surrounding tissue to heat up, killing the nearby cancer cells.
At high doses, radiation therapy kills cancer cells or slows their growth by damaging their DNA. Cancer cells whose DNA is damaged beyond repair stop dividing or die. When the damaged cells die, they are broken down and removed by the body.
Radiation therapy does not kill cancer cells right away. It takes days or weeks of treatment before DNA is damaged enough for cancer cells to die. Then, cancer cells keep dying for weeks or months after radiation therapy ends.
Chemotherapy as cancer treatment
Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is used to treat many types of cancer. For some people, chemotherapy may be the only treatment you receive. But most often, you will have chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. The types of treatment that you need depend on the type of cancer you have, if it has spread and where, and if you have other health problems.
Chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells, which grow and divide quickly. Chemotherapy is used to:
Chemotherapy can be used to cure cancer, lessen the chance it will return, or stop or slow its growth.
Ease cancer symptoms
Chemotherapy can be used to shrink tumors that are causing pain and other problems.
Biomarker Testing for Cancer Treatment
Biomarker testing is a way to look for genes, proteins, and other substances (called biomarkers or tumor markers) that can provide information about cancer. Biomarker testing can help you and your doctor choose a cancer treatment.
Biomarker testing is for people who have cancer. People with solid tumors and people with blood cancer can get biomarker testing.
Biomarker testing is different from genetic testing that is used to find out if someone has inherited mutations that make them more likely to get cancer. Inherited mutations are those you are born with. They are passed on to you by your parents.
Hormone Therapy as cancer treatment
Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that slows or stops the growth of breast and prostate cancers that use hormones to grow. Some types of cancer are fueled by your body's hormones. Examples include breast cancer and prostate cancer. Removing those hormones from the body or blocking their effects may cause the cancer cells to stop growing.
Hormone therapy falls into two broad groups, those that block the body’s ability to produce hormones and those that interfere with how hormones behave in the body.
Hyperthermia as cancer treatment
Hyperthermia is a type of cancer treatment in which body tissue is heated to as high as 113 °F to help damage and kill cancer cells with little or no harm to normal tissue.
Hyperthermia is almost always used with other forms of cancer treatment. Many clinical trials have shown that hyperthermia, when used with treatments such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, helps shrink tumors and may make it easier for them to kill cancer cells.
Immunotherapy as cancer treatment
Immunotherapy, also known as biological therapy, is a type of cancer treatment that uses your body's immune system to fight cancer. Cancer can survive unchecked in your body because your immune system doesn't recognize it as an intruder. Immunotherapy can help your immune system "see" the cancer and attack it.
Photodynamic Therapy as cancer treatment
Photodynamic therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses a drug activated by light to kill cancer and other abnormal cells.
Stem Cell Transplant as cancer treatment
Your bone marrow is the material inside your bones that makes blood cells from blood stem cells. A bone marrow transplant, also knowns as a stem cell transplant, is used to treat cancer by using your own bone marrow stem cells or those from a donor to treat cancer. Stem cell transplants are procedures that restore stem cells that grow into blood cells in people who have had theirs destroyed by high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. A bone marrow transplant allows your doctor to use higher doses of chemotherapy to treat your cancer. It may also be used to replace diseased bone marrow.
Targeted Therapy as cancer treatment
Targeted therapy is a type of cancer treatment that targets the changes in cancer cells that help them grow, divide, and spread. Targeted drug treatment focuses on specific abnormalities within cancer cells that allow them to survive.
Cryoablation as cancer treatment
This treatment kills cancer cells with cold. During cryoablation, a thin, wandlike needle (cryoprobe) is inserted through your skin and directly into the cancerous tumor. A gas is pumped into the cryoprobe in order to freeze the cancer tissue. Then the cancer tissue is allowed to thaw. The freezing and thawing process is repeated several times during the same treatment session in order to kill the cancer cells.
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