Different cancers are treated in different ways. When deciding treatment, doctors will take into account a patient’s general health as well as the stage the cancer is in.
There are six main types of treatment for cancer. It is fairly common for a patient to undergo a combination of cancer treatments to get the best results.
Surgery is a common treatment for many cancers. It involves cutting away the effected body tissue or cancerous tumour. Surgery is usually performed if the cancer is in one area of the body. In rare cases, surgery can be performed if the cancer has spread to another area. However, this is less common because if a cancer has spread surgery usually cannot cure it.
The type of surgery a patient has will depend on the type of cancer they have; the affected area of the body; as well as the size and position.
Radiotherapy treatment is when high energy x-ray beams (radiation) are used to destroy cancer cells. Radiotherapy is very carefully planned and beams are only aimed at the affected area of the body to prevent healthy cells from being harmed. It can cause long-term and short-term side effects which will vary depending on the part of the body that is being treated. Most side effects are temporary and can be treated with medicine.
Chemotherapy is the use of cytotoxic (cell-killing) drugs to destroy cancer cells. There are over 100 different chemotherapy drugs available and a treatment may involve the use of a single drug or a combination of two or more different types. Some chemotherapy drugs are given as tablets or capsules, but most are given through infusion (by drip) into a vein. Chemotherapy can be given alongside other cancer treatments like radiotherapy, surgery, hormone therapy, etc. Doctors will assess your situation and decide if chemotherapy is suitable for you. This will depend on various things, including:
- The type of cancer you have
- Where in your body the cancer started
- The grade of cancer cells (how different they are from normal cells and how rapidly they are growing/spreading. A biopsy will reveal this.)
- Whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body
- Your general health
Chemotherapy has side effects. These will depend on which drug(s) is used. There are now very good ways of preventing or reducing the side effects of chemotherapy.
Hormones are natural substances our body (the endocrine system) produces. Hormones carry messages throughout the body but they also have other functions like effecting the growth and function of cells and organs. Some cancer cells also need hormones to grow. To prevent this, hormone therapy works by altering the production of a certain type(s) of hormone in the body. When hormones are reduced or prevented from attaching to the cancer cells, the cancer can be controlled.
Hormone therapy is normally used to treat patients suffering from cancers which are hormone sensitive. These include:
- Prostate cancer
- Breast cancer
- Ovarian and womb cancer
- Kidney cancer
Biological therapy is also known as targeted therapy. It involves drugs which are similar to the substances that occur naturally in our body. These drugs do what those substances would, to specifically fight cancer. Biological therapy works in different ways like: stimulating the body’s immune system to fight the cancer; finding cancer cells and destroying them; or inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. There are several types of biological therapy, some of these are:
- Monoclonal antibodies, which can be designed to find cancer cells and destroy them.
- Cancer growth inhibitors, which prevent cancer cells from using hormones that help them grow.
- Angiogenesis inhibitors, which prevent the development of blood vessels that feed tumours.
- Vaccines and gene therapy are still in development. Researchers are trying develop vaccines that could cure cancer which has spread or come back.
Some types of cancer grow very slowly and may not cause problems for many years. In this type of situation a patient won’t need to have any treatment for some time. Nonetheless, doctors will continue to monitor the patient closely,so that if the cancer does start to grow, they can begin treatment at that time.