The treatment for cancer depends on the type of cancer, the stage of cancer and individual factors such as age, health status and personal preferences. The four major types of treatment for cancer are surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and biologic therapies, among others. Diagnosis and advice from your doctor will enable you to choose the best treatment choice for your unique situation.
Types of Treatment:
Bone Marrow Transplant
Chemotherapy is a kind of treatment that uses drugs to attack cancer cells. It is called a "systemic treatment" since the drug, entering through the blood stream, travels throughout the body and kills cancer cells at their sites. The drugs may rarely be intended to have a local effect, but in most cases, the intention is to destroy cancer cells wherever they may exist in the body. Chemotherapeutic drugs are chemically designed to target cells that are dividing and growing rapidly. Once they reach the cancer cells, they act to retard their growth, eventually resulting in their destruction. Chemotherapy may be given at home, in a clinic or in a hospital. The chemotherapy is decided on the basis of the type of cancer.
About 50 to 60 percent of cancer patients are treated with radiation at some time during their disease. Radiation therapy is the careful use of high-energy radiation to treat cancer. A radiation oncologist may use radiation to cure cancer or to relieve a cancer patient's pain. Radiation therapy works because the radiation destroys the cancer cells' ability to reproduce and the body naturally gets rid of these cells. A cancer patient may be treated with radiation alone. Prostate cancer and larynx cancer are often treated in this manner. Sometimes radiation therapy is only part of a patient's treatment. For example, a woman may have radiation therapy after breast conserving surgery. She can be cured of her cancer and still keep her breast. When radiation therapy is only part of a patient's treatment it is called adjuvant treatment.
Bone Marrow Transplant
Bone marrow is a soft fatty tissue found inside the bones. It produces blood cells (red blood cells, platelets and white blood cells). When the patient develops disease of the blood cells (anemia, leukemia, or lymphoma) or when cancer treatment like chemotherapy and radiation therapy damages or destroys the bone marrow, a transplant with healthy bone marrow is needed to save the patient's life. Patients also need bone marrow transplants when they have dangerously low white blood cells (which are needed to fight infection) as a result of cancer treatment. In a bone marrow transplant, special cells (called stem cells) that are normally found in the bone marrow are taken out, filtered and given back either to the same person or to another person. Bone marrow produces stem cells. These stem cells develop into the body's blood cells.
Hormones are chemicals secreted by the body. These chemicals are responsible for controlling physical development from puberty to old age. Some types of tumors require the presence of hormones to grow. Doctors try to kill such tumors by manipulating the body's hormone supply. This involves administering a hormone or hormone-like chemical, which counters the required hormone's effects. This technique, called hormone therapy, deprives the body of the hormone needed for tumor growth. Malignancies of the breast and prostate are especially vulnerable to this kind of treatment.
In earlier forms of the therapy, organs responsible for hormone production, ovaries in the case of women and testes in the case of men, as well as the adrenal glands were removed. This resulted in severe physical and psychological side effects including hot flashes, increased risk of heart disease, men growing breasts and facial hair in women.
Biological therapy is based on the idea that the human immune system, which is designed to eliminate and destroy any foreign substance, found inside the body that can play a role in destroying cancer cells. There are several problems with this approach. One of the biggest is that the immune system does not always treat cancer cells as "foreign." It is easy for the system to recognize bacteria or viruses, since they are completely different from normal human cells. But the difference between a tumor cell and a normal cell is small.
Great strides have been made, however, and biological therapy is now an accepted treatment for some cancers. The therapy consists mainly of treating the immune system with highly purified proteins that help activate the system or help it do its job more effectively.
Surgery plays a crucial role in treating cancer. It is the oldest form of treatment and the most effective. More cures are achieved by surgery than by any other form of therapy. Surgery's role in cancer treatment has expanded considerably over the past few years.
Better understanding of the natural history of many tumors, safer anesthetic techniques and improved pre-operative and post-operative care have led to better immediate and long-term survival rates. Surgeons can now also plan operations more effectively because a tumor's size and location can be determined more precisely with modern imaging techniques. Surgery can support other treatment methods too.
Photodynamic therapy, which uses a red laser and a light-sensitive drug to destroy cancer cells without harming normal tissue. It represents a promising new treatment option for patients with throat or oral cancers. Before patients receive the therapy, they are given an intravenous injection of a light-sensitive drug, which passes through normal cells but collects in cancerous and pre-cancerous cells. Two or three days after the injection, doctors expose those areas to a red laser, causing a chemical reaction that destroys the diseased cells. The procedure is performed in the operating room while patients are under anesthesia.
The potential benefits of gene therapy are twofold: Gene-based treatments can attack existing cancer at the molecular level, eliminating the need for drugs, radiation or surgery. It helps in identifying cancer susceptibility genes in individuals or families and can have a major role in preventing the disease before it occurs. Gene transfer therapy can be done outside the body (ex vivo) by extracting bone marrow or blood from the patient and growing the cells in a laboratory. The corrected copy of the gene is introduced and allowed to penetrate the cells' DNA before being injected back into the body. Gene transfers can also be done directly inside the patient's body (in vivo).