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Cancer treatment varies depending upon your type of cancer, stage of cancer, and overall condition. One or more different treatment methods – either at the same time or in sequence - may be used to provide you with the most effective treatment. Depending on these factors, you may receive one or more of the following treatment methods:
A targeted therapy is designed to treat only the cancer cells and minimize damage to normal, healthy cells. Cancer treatments that “target” cancer cells may offer the advantage of reduced treatment-related side effects and improved outcomes.
Chemotherapy is any treatment involving the use of drugs to kill or stop the growth of cancer cells. Cancer chemotherapy may consist of a single drug or a combination of drugs, and can be administered through a vein, injected into a body cavity, or delivered orally in the form of a pill. Chemotherapy is different from surgery or radiation therapy in that the cancer-fighting drugs circulate in the blood to parts of the body where the cancer may have spread and can kill or eliminate cancers cells at sites great distances from the original cancer. As a result, chemotherapy is considered a systemic treatment.
Surgery is used in many ways, including for diagnosing cancer, determining the stage of the cancer, removing the primary tumor and relieving symptoms. One common type of surgery that may be used to help with diagnosing cancer is a biopsy. A biopsy involves taking a tissue sample from the suspected cancer for examination by a specialist in a laboratory. A biopsy is often performed in the physician’s office. A positive biopsy indicates the presence of cancer; a negative biopsy may indicate that no cancer is present in the sample. When surgery is used for treatment, the cancer and some tissue adjacent to the cancer are typically removed. In addition to providing local treatment of the cancer, information gained during surgery is useful in predicting the likelihood of cancer recurrence and whether other courses of treatment will be necessary.
Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, uses high-energy rays to damage or kill cancer cells by preventing them from growing and dividing. Similar to surgery, radiation therapy is a local treatment used to eliminate or eradicate visible tumors. Radiation therapy is not typically useful in eradicating cancer cells that have already spread to other parts of the body. Radiation therapy may be externally or internally delivered. External radiation delivers high-energy rays directly to the tumor site from a machine outside the body. Internal radiation, or brachytherapy, involves the implantation of a small amount of radioactive material in or near the cancer. Radiation may be used to cure or control cancer, or to ease some of the symptoms caused by cancer. Sometimes radiation is used with other types of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and surgery, and sometimes it is used alone.
Biological therapy for cancer is referred to by many terms, including immunologic therapy, immunotherapy, or biotherapy. Biological therapy is a type of treatment that uses the body’s immune system (antibodies) to facilitate the killing of cancer cells. Types of biological therapy include interferon, interleukin, monoclonal antibodies, colony stimulating factors (cytokines), and vaccines.
Hormones are naturally-occurring substances in the body that stimulate the growth of hormone-sensitive tissues, such as the breast or prostate gland. When cancer occurs in breast or prostate tissue, its growth and spread may be caused by the body’s own hormones. Therefore, drugs that block hormone production or change the way hormones work, or removal of organs that secrete hormones such as the ovaries or testicles, are ways of fighting cancer. Hormone therapy, similar to chemotherapy, is a systemic treatment because it may affect cancer cells throughout the body.