Cancer

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

Cancer 101: Cancer Explained

Quick GuideUnderstanding Cancer: Metastasis, Stages of Cancer, and More

Understanding Cancer: Metastasis, Stages of Cancer, and More

What is the treatment for cancer?

A doctor who specialized in the treatment of cancer is called an oncologist. He or she may be a surgeon, a specialist in radiation therapy, or a medical oncologist. The first uses surgery to treat the cancer; the second, radiation therapy; the third, chemotherapy and related treatments. Each may consult with the others to develop a treatment plan for the particular patient.

The treatment is based on the type of cancer and the stage of the cancer. In some people, diagnosis and treatment may occur at the same time if the cancer is entirely surgically removed when the surgeon removes the tissue for biopsy.

Although patients may receive a unique sequenced treatment, or protocol, for their cancer, most treatments have one or more of the following components: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or combination treatments (a combination of two or all three treatments).

Individuals obtain variations of these treatments for cancer. Patients with cancers that cannot be cured (completely removed) by surgery usually will get combination therapy, the composition determined by the cancer type and stage.

Palliative therapy (medical care or treatment used to reduce disease symptoms but unable to cure the patient) utilizes the same treatments described above. It is done with the intent to extend and improve the quality of life of the terminally ill cancer patient. There are many other palliative treatments to reduce symptoms such as pain medications and antinausea medications.

Are there home remedies or alternative treatments for cancer?

There are many claims on the internet and in publications about substances that treat cancer (for example, brocolli, grapes, ginseng, soybeans, green tea, aloe vera, and lycopene and treatments like acupuncture, vitamins, and dietary supplements). Although some of these treatments may help reduce symptoms, there is no good evidence they can cure any cancers. Patients are strongly recommended to discuss any home remedies or alternative treatments with their cancer doctors before beginning any of these.

What is the prognosis for cancer?

The prognosis (outcome) for cancer patients may range from excellent to poor. The prognosis is directly related to both the type and stage of the cancer. For example, many skin cancers can be completely cured by removing the skin cancer tissue; similarly, even a patient with a large tumor may be cured after surgery and other treatments like chemotherapy (note that a cure is often defined by many clinicians as a five-year period with no reoccurrence of the cancer). However, as the cancer type either is or becomes aggressive, with spread to lymph nodes or is metastatic to other organs, the prognosis decreases. For example, cancers that have higher numbers in their staging (for example, stage III or T3N2M1; see staging section above) have a worse prognosis than those with low (or 0) numbers. As the staging numbers increase, the prognosis worsens.

This article offers a general introduction to cancers, consequently the details -- such as life expectancy for each cancer -- cannot be covered. However, cancers in general have a decreasing life expectancy as the stage of the cancer increases. Depending on the type of the cancer, as the prognosis decreases, so does life expectancy. On the positive side, cancers that are treated and do not recur within a 5-year period in general suggest that the patient will have a normal life expectancy. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees.

There are many complications that may occur with cancer; many are specific to the cancer type and stage and are too numerous to list here. However, some general complications that may occur with both cancer and its treatment protocols are listed below:

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/26/2016

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