Advancements in cancer treatment over the past few decades have greatly improved recovery rates, and if diagnosed early, cancer is completely manageable in a majority of cases. Depending upon type, location, stage, and other medical factors, one or more of the following treatments may be used. In many cases, a combination of treatment options provides the greatest benefit.
Cancer surgery involves the surgical removal of cancer tissue, which is known as surgical resection. Surgery is recommended when the tumor is well-defined, large, and accessible to the surgeon. In some cases, an entire cancerous organ or piece of a cancerous organ may be removed—for example, the removal of a lung to treat advanced lung cancer. When possible, surgery is recommended because it's often curative, although the risk of infection and death are inherent to all surgical procedures.
Radiation therapy is the exposure of cancerous tissue to ionizing radiation. This means that a radioactive material that produces high-energy subatomic particles is used to produce a focused beam of radiation that is directed to the site of tumor growth. When cancer cells are exposed to radiation, their DNA is damaged, and damaged DNA causes the rapidly growing cells to stop dividing and die.
Radiation can be used to treat most types of cancer and is often used in combination with chemotherapy. The most recent advancements in radiotherapy focus on minimizing damage to healthy tissue. Many patients now receive doses of radiation during operations to remove cancerous tissue.
Chemotherapy includes administration of one or more medications to treat cancer. Chemotherapeutic agents kill rapidly dividing cancer cells by interfering with processes that are necessary for cell growth and division. Chemotherapy can be used to cure, to prolong life, or to reduce symptoms in patients who are terminal. Most regimens of chemotherapy involve weekly or daily trips to the hospital where the medication is infused into the blood stream. Chemotherapy is particularly useful for treating cancer that is widespread. Examples include leukemia, lymphoma, and Hodgkin's disease.
Most patients will experience nausea and hair loss due to the fact that general chemotherapeutic agents kill all cells that divide rapidly, including non-cancerous cells found in the lining of the stomach, intestine and in hair follicles. However, newer chemotherapeutics have drastically reduced these side effects.
One of the latest advancements in cancer treatment allows scientists to amplify a cancer patient’s own immune system response to cancer. One fascinating form of immunotherapy is administration of monoclonal antibodies made in a laboratory. These antibodies attach to structures or molecules unique to the cancer being treated. When an antibody attaches to a cell, the body’s immune system recognizes that cell as dangerous and destroys it.
The major advantage of monoclonal antibody therapy is that damage to healthy tissue can be minimized. Over the next few years, great progress in immunotherapy is expected.