When faced with a cancer diagnosis, one of the first steps is to make decisions about treatment. Patients and their families must consider the available treatment options and choose the best method for their specific situation. It is important to take the time to research and discuss with family members, as well as understand the potential side effects of each treatment option, in order to feel confident in making a decision.
The type and stage of cancer will determine the recommended treatment methods from your doctor. This blog provides information on various cancer treatment options and their goals, which can help guide patients in selecting the most suitable treatment option.
Types of Cancer Treatment
Cancer treatments vary depending on the type and progression of the disease. Some individuals may undergo a single treatment modality, while others may receive a combination of treatments. It is normal to feel overwhelmed and confused after a cancer diagnosis, but consulting with a doctor can help alleviate some of these concerns. The following are the main pillars of cancer treatment:
Chemotherapy is a common cancer treatment that uses medication to kill cancer cells. It aims to treat, control, and manage cancer by stopping cell growth, preventing spreading, shrinking tumors, and alleviating symptoms. Chemotherapy can be used as a standalone treatment or in combination with other therapies. However, it can also affect healthy cells, leading to side effects such as hair loss, fatigue, and gastrointestinal issues.
Cancer surgery involves the removal of cancerous tissue from the body. It may require either a major or minor incision, depending on the location of the tumor. Cryosurgery, which uses extreme cold temperatures to destroy cancer cells, is another surgical method. Surgery is typically used for localized cancers and is often combined with other treatment options.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It can be administered externally (using a machine) or internally (placing a radiation source near or inside the body). Radiation therapy can shrink tumors and alleviate symptoms. There are three main delivery methods: external beam radiation, internal radiation, and systemic radiation therapy.
Immunotherapy harnesses the body’s immune system to fight cancer. It boosts the immune response and helps target cancer cells more effectively. Immunotherapy drugs are administered intravenously and specifically target certain parts of cancer cells. The goals of immunotherapy include stopping or slowing cancer growth, preventing metastasis, and boosting the immune system to eliminate cancer cells.
Photodynamic therapy involves administering a light-sensitive drug to the patient. The drug selectively accumulates in cancer cells and is activated by a laser or other light source, causing damage to the cancer cells.
Hyperthermia uses heat to kill cancer cells without harming normal cells. Heat is applied externally using machines, probes, or needles placed in tumors. Hyperthermia can be used in specific body areas or locally.
Hormone therapy is used to treat cancers that are hormone-dependent, such as breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers. It blocks the hormones that fuel cancer growth through medications or surgery, reducing the growth of cancer cells. Surgery may involve the removal of hormone-producing organs, such as the testes or ovaries. Hormone therapy drugs can be administered orally or by injection.
Targeted therapy specifically targets cancer cells, impeding their growth or causing them to die. It can stimulate the immune system, prevent cancer cell growth, or counteract treatment side effects. Compared to other treatments, targeted therapy is less harmful to normal cells. Targeted therapy drugs can kill cancer cells, induce cell death, or inhibit their growth and spread. Examples of targeted treatments include cancer growth inhibitors, monoclonal antibodies, angiogenesis inhibitors, and vaccines.
Bone Marrow Transplant or Stem Cell Transplant:
Bone marrow transplant, also known as a stem cell transplant, involves replacing damaged bone marrow or stem cells with healthy ones. This procedure is commonly used to treat blood and lymphatic system cancers. There are two types of stem cell transplants: high-dose treatment with stem cell support and allogeneic (donor) stem cell transplant.
Cryotherapy uses freezing gas to kill cancer cells and can be used to treat pre-cancerous cells or tumors in various body parts, such as the skin or cervix. Special instruments can also deliver cryotherapy to tumors in organs like the prostate or liver.
Laser therapy destroys cancer cells using a focused beam of light. It can be administered internally through a thin tube that directs the light to the cancer cells. Laser therapy is often used in combination with other cancer treatments and can be applied to the skin as well. Its goals include treating cancer symptoms, damaging tumors and cancer growth, and shrinking tumors that may be obstructing the colon, stomach, or esophagus. It can also be used to reduce pain after surgery by sealing nerve endings and lymph vessels.
Goals of Cancer Treatment
The goals of cancer treatment vary depending on the individual’s situation. The primary goal is to cure cancer completely so that the patient can resume a normal life. However, this may not always be possible depending on the stage and type of cancer. In such cases, treatment aims to shrink or slow the growth of cancer cells, relieve symptoms, and improve quality of life. Cancer treatment can be categorized into three main types:
Primary treatment aims to remove or destroy all cancer cells from the body. Surgery is a common primary treatment option, and in cases where cancer is responsive to chemotherapy or radiation therapy, these treatments may be used as primary therapies.
Adjuvant treatment is used after primary treatment to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence by targeting any remaining cancer cells. Various treatments, including radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy, can be used as adjuvant therapy. Neoadjuvant treatment refers to treatment administered before primary treatment to facilitate the process or enhance its effectiveness.
Palliative treatment focuses on alleviating symptoms and side effects caused by cancer or its treatment. It aims to improve quality of life and may involve hormone therapy, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other medications. Palliative treatment is often used in conjunction with other therapies and can effectively manage pain and other symptoms associated with cancer.
Future Trends in Cancer Treatment
Several emerging approaches show promise in advancing cancer treatment in the future. These include cell therapy, personalized vaccines, microbiome treatment, and gene editing.
CAR-T cell therapy is a cutting-edge treatment that involves genetically modifying immune T-cells to target specific cancer antigens. This technology is being further developed to expand its applicability to a wider range of cancers beyond its current use for certain rare forms.
Personalized Cancer Vaccines:
Personalized cancer vaccines focus on genetic mutations that contribute to cancer development. These vaccines are tailored to target specific tumor modifications and hold potential for treating cancers with high mutation rates, such as colorectal and lung cancers. Other technologies, like CAR-T therapy, can be used for cancers with lower mutation rates, such as prostate or ovarian cancer.
Microbiome treatment utilizes the body’s collection of microorganisms to combat cancer. Cancer vaccines have been developed based on tumor-mimicking molecules that elicit a robust immune response against the tumor, rendering it visible to other forms of cancer therapy.
Gene editing technologies, such as CRISPR/Cas9, have revolutionized the field by enabling precise modification of DNA sequences. In cancer treatment, gene editing can be used to remove genes that allow tumor cells to evade the immune system. It can also enhance existing cancer therapies like CAR-T cells. CRISPR technology holds great potential for advancing cancer treatment.
Cancer treatment involves a range of approaches, including surgery, radiation, medication, and other therapies, to cure, shrink, or halt the progression of cancer cells. Early detection offers more treatment options and higher survival rates. The choice of treatment depends on individual circumstances, and patients should consult with their doctors to understand the risks and benefits associated with each option.