- Cancer 101: Cancer Explained
- Guide to Breast Cancer
- Skin Cancer Risks
- Patient Comments: Cancer
- Patient Comments: Cancer
- Patient Comments: Cancer
- How can cancer be detected early?
- What are symptoms of cancer?
- How is cancer diagnosed?
- How is cancer treated?
- What are the side effects of cancer treatment?
- How important is nutrition for cancer patients?
- What are clinical trials?
- What other support is there for cancer patients?
- What does the future hold for cancer patients?
- What resources are available to patients with cancer and their families?
Quick GuideUnderstanding Cancer: Metastasis, Stages of Cancer, Pictures
How is cancer treated?
Cancer is treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or biological therapy. Patients with cancer are often treated by a team of specialists, which may include a medical oncologist (specialist in cancer treatment), a surgeon, a radiation oncologist (specialist in radiation therapy), and others. The doctors may decide to use one treatment method or a combination of methods. The choice of treatment depends on the type and location of the cancer, the stage of the disease, the patient's age and general health, and other factors.
Some cancer patients take part in a clinical trial (research study) using new treatment methods. Such studies are designed to improve cancer treatment.
Getting A Second Opinion
Before starting treatment, you may want another doctor to review the diagnosis and treatment plan. Some insurance companies require a second opinion; others may pay for a second opinion if the patient requests it. There are a number of ways to find specialists to consult for a second opinion.
Your doctor may suggest a specialist for a second opinion.
The Cancer Information Service, at 1-800-4-CANCER, can tell callers about treatment facilities, including cancer centers and other programs in their area supported by the National Cancer Institute.
You can get the names of doctors from their local medical society, a nearby hospital, or a medical school.
Preparing For Treatment
Many people with cancer want to learn all they can about their disease and their treatment choices so they can take an active part in decisions about their medical care. Often, it helps to make a list of questions to ask the doctor. Patients may take notes or, with the doctor's consent, tape record the discussion. Some patients also find it helps to have a family member or friend with them when they talk with the doctor, to take part in the discussion, to take notes, or just to listen.
When a person is diagnosed with cancer, shock and stress are natural reactions. These feelings may make it difficult to think of every question to ask the doctor. Patients may find it hard to remember everything the doctor says. They should not feel they need to ask all their questions or remember all the answers at one time. They will have other chances for the doctor to explain things that are not clear and to ask for more information.
Methods Of Treatment
Surgery - Surgery is local treatment to remove the tumor. Tissue around the tumor and nearby lymph nodes may also be removed during the operation.
Radiation Therapy - In radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy), high-energy rays are used to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing and dividing. Like surgery, radiation therapy is a local treatment; it affects cancer cells only in the treated area. Radiation can come from a machine (external radiation). It can also come from an implant (a small container of radioactive material) placed directly into or near the tumor (internal radiation). Some patients receive both kinds of radiation therapy.
External radiation therapy is usually given on an outpatient basis in a hospital or clinic 5 days a week for several weeks. Patients are not radioactive during or after the treatment.
For internal radiation therapy, the patient stays in the hospital for a few days. The implant may be temporary or permanent. Because the level of radiation is highest during the hospital stay, patients may not be able to have visitors or may have visitors only for a short time. Once an implant is removed, there is no radioactivity in the body. The amount of radiation in a permanent implant goes down to a safe level before the patient leaves the hospital.
Chemotherapy - Treatment with drugs to kill cancer cells is called chemotherapy. Most anticancer drugs are injected into a vein (IV) or a muscle. Some are given by mouth as pills. Chemotherapy is systemic treatment, meaning that the drugs flow through the bloodstream to nearly every part of the body.
Often, patients who need many doses of IV chemotherapy receive the drugs through a catheter (a thin flexible tube). One end of the catheter is placed in a large vein in the chest. The other end is outside the body or attached to a small device just under the skin (called a port). Anticancer drugs are given through the catheter. This can make chemotherapy more comfortable for the patient. Patients and their families are shown how to care for the catheter and keep it clean. For some types of cancer, doctors are studying whether it helps to put anticancer drugs directly into the affected area.
Chemotherapy is generally given in cycles: a treatment period is followed by a recovery period, then another treatment period, and so on. Usually a patient has chemotherapy as an outpatient at the hospital, at the doctor's office, or at home. However, depending on which drugs are given and the patient's general health, the patient may need to stay in the hospital for a short time.
Hormone Therapy - Some types of cancer, including most breast and prostate cancers, depend on hormones to grow. For this reason, doctors may recommend therapy that prevents cancer cells from getting or using the hormones they need. Sometimes, the patient has surgery to remove organs (such as the ovaries or testicles) that make the hormones. In other cases, the doctor uses drugs to stop hormone production or change the way hormones work. Like chemotherapy, hormone therapy is a systemic treatment; it affects cells throughout the body.
Biological Therapy - Biological therapy (also called immunotherapy) is a form of treatment that uses the body's natural ability (immune system) to fight infection and disease or to protect the body from some of the side effects of treatment. Monoclonal antibodies, interferon, interleukin-2 (IL-2), and several types of colony-stimulating factors (CSF, GM-CSF, G-CSF) are forms of biological therapy.