Treatment modality used for cancer depends on many factors such as the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer (how much it has spread), age, and overall health of the patient. No one single treatment has been shown to be effective for all types of cancer or all patients with one kind of cancer. Most patients are given a combination of therapies and palliative care as needed. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, or gene therapy are the different treatment modalities for cancer.
- Surgery: This is the oldest type of treatment for cancer. If the cancer is localised (that is limited) and not metastasised it may be possible to remove the entire tumourous growth. But if the tumour has spread to other organs and tissue, it may not be possible to remove the entire growth. Your doctor may still consider surgery to reduce the size of tumour and control symptoms due to it such as bowel obstruction or spinal cord compression.
- Radiation therapy: Radiotherapy or radiation treatment damages the cancer cells and leads them to death. But radiotherapy damages the normal cells of the body as well and can cause side effects such as vomiting and erythema of skin. Earlier, radiation treatment was associated with severe side-effects but medical advancement has significantly reduced the side effects of radiotherapy. Your doctor may use radiotherapy alone or use it along with other treatment options such as surgery and chemotherapy.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves administration of drugs which interfere with the cell division process and damage proteins or DNA of the cancer cells which leads them to commit suicide. The normal cells of the body are affected as well which cause side effects such as vomiting, diarrhoea, hair loss, and decrease in the number of blood cells. Chemotherapy is given in cycles so that the normal cells of the body can recover. Chemotherapy is used for the treatment of cancers with metastasis, some forms of leukaemia and lymphoma and some solid tumours. It may be used alone or in combination with other treatment modalities for cancer.
- Immunotherapy: The aim of immunotherapy is to boost the body's immune system to fight the tumour. Immunotherapy can be local, targeted or systemic. Local immunotherapy involves injecting the drug into the affected area, which causes local inflammation and results in shrinking of the tumour. Systemic immunotherapy involves systemic administration of a drug such as interferon alpha which causes shrinking of the tumour. In targeted immunotherapy, the treatment specifically boosts the immune system to destroy cancer cells. These are new and evolving therapies but the success with these treatments has been good and that has prompted further studies and extensive use.
- Hormone therapy: The growth of some cancers such as breast and prostate cancer is affected by hormones. Hormonal therapy aims to alter the hormone production in the body in a way that cancer cells stop growing or are killed completely.
- Gene therapy: Gene therapy aims to replace damaged genes or DNA that is the cause of cancer with a copy of a working gene which can help to regulate the uncontrolled growth of cancerous cells. This is a new modality of treatment in the early stages of development, but it has a lot of potential in the treatment of cancer.
Advances in the treatment of cancer have significantly improved the prognosis of several types of cancer but treatment of many types of cancers still remains inadequate. Hopefully in the near future advances in the treatment of cancer will make all types of cancer curable.
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