Cancer treatment depends on where your cancer is, its size, whether it has spread, and your general health. If you have cancer, your doctor will recommend one or more ways to treat the disease. The most common treatments are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Other options include targeted therapy, immunotherapy, laser and hormone therapy.
Surgery is the oldest kind of cancer treatment and is still the most common treatment for cancer. It is often coupled with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Cancer surgery is an operation or procedure to remove a tumour and possibly some nearby tissue. A doctor who specialises in cancer surgery is called a surgical oncologist.
Surgery can be done at various stages of a person’s cancer treatment plan. The types of cancer which are commonly treated with surgery include:
- breast cancer
- bowel cancer
- pancreatic cancer
- cancers of the head and neck
A biopsy is the main way to diagnose many types of cancer. Your doctor may refer you for a biopsy when an initial test suggests an area of tissue in your body appears to be abnormal. During a biopsy, a small amount of tissue is removed to see if it contains cancer cells.
The tissue from the biopsy is analysed by a pathologist to determine if cancer is present and if so, the type and grade of cancer. The results will largely determine your treatment plan.
Staging surgery is performed to determine how big the tumour is and if it has spread. Your doctor might remove the entire tumour or take a sample. Lymph nodes near the cancer are often removed to learn if the cancer has spread.
Staging can also be done using imaging studies like ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs, and X-rays.
The results of staging surgery help your doctor decide on treatment and can also help predict your chance of recovery.
Removing a tumour is a common type of cancer surgery. Your doctor usually takes out the tumour together with some of the healthy tissue near it. Surgery is often coupled with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to minimise the chance of the cancer returning.
Tumour removal normally requires a larger incision than a biopsy. Sometimes, there are less invasive surgical options for tumour removal which use small instruments and incisions. The benefits of less invasive surgery, such as laparoscopic surgery or robotic surgery, are that you usually have less pain and recover faster.
Debulking is a surgery that only removes part of a tumour. This might be because the tumour is too large or because removing the tumour might damage other parts of your body. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other treatments are often done after this type of surgery to help shrink the tumour and treat cancer.
The aim of palliative surgery is to improve your quality of life if you have advanced cancer. Palliative surgery can relieve the side effects caused by a cancerous tumour. The goal of palliative surgery may be to:
- relieve nerve pain or pressure
- remove a block in the digestive system or other elsewhere in the body
- stop bleeding
- put in a feeding tube or port for medication
- prevent fractures
Treating cancer can change the way you look or how your body works. Reconstructive surgery can help repair the changes to your body from your cancer surgery.
Examples of reconstructive surgery include breast reconstruction after a mastectomy and surgery to restore appearance and function after head and neck surgery.
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses powerful chemicals to cure or treat cancer. Chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells, which grow and multiply much more quickly than most cells in the body.
Chemo is known as a systemic treatment as it can treat cancer cells almost anywhere in the body. Many different chemotherapy drugs are available, which can be used alone or in combination to treat a wide variety of cancers.
Radiotherapy uses targeted energy beams to destroy cancer cells. It is usually given with chemotherapy after surgery to reduce the risk of cancer coming back or to help relieve symptoms.
Doctors use hormone therapy to treat some cancers such as breast and prostate cancer. Some cancers use hormones, such as oestrogen, to grow or develop. Hormone therapy works by blocking or lowering the amount of these hormones.
An example of hormone therapy is the use of the drug tamoxifen for male breast cancer which stops breast cancer from growing.
Stem Cell And Bone Marrow Transplants
Stem cell or bone marrow transplants are treatments for some types of cancer including leukaemia, lymphoma, and myeloma.
Initially, high-dose chemotherapy (and perhaps radiation) is given to destroy the cancer cells in the bone marrow. Stem cells are then given by IV to replace the bone marrow cells that have been killed by chemotherapy. These fresh, healthy stem cells make their way to the bone marrow where they start making normal white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.
Targeted Cancer Drugs
In cases of advanced cancer, a targeted therapy drug may be given together with chemotherapy. These drugs target tissues in or around the cancer cell that is helping it grow and survive.
An Overview Of Cancer Treatments
The approach to cancer treatment is a multifaceted process that depends on the type, size, and stage of the cancer, as well as the patient's overall health. Diagnostic procedures, such as biopsies and staging surgeries, form the backbone of this approach, guiding the subsequent steps of treatment.
Surgery, whether it involves tumour removal, debulking, palliative interventions, or reconstructive procedures, remains a vital part of cancer management.
Complementary therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy often follow or are used concurrently with surgery, aiming to eradicate any remaining cancer cells and prevent recurrence.
The evolution of targeted therapy and stem cell transplantation further illustrates the ever-expanding field of oncology, providing even more tailored and efficient treatments. It is paramount to remember, however, that every patient's journey with cancer is unique and the optimal treatment strategy is the one personalized to their specific circumstances and needs.