11 Mar Beyond cancer: Discover several cancer treatment options
Worried about cancer treatment options? We have put together a guide to help you understand cancer treatment options available nowadays. If you or someone close to you has recently been diagnosed with cancer, you probably have lots of questions about treatment.
One way to feel more in control, is to do as much research as you can into the types of treatment and what to expect afterwards. It is important to understand that there are many types of cancer treatments, other than the most well-known ones.
It is important between you and your doctor to find the most suitable treatment for you according to the type of cancer you have, where it is in your body and how much it has spread.
There are some types of treatments that work for several different types of cancer; we have listed the most common types below, as well as some lesser-known treatments.
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Cancer treatment options:
Eventually, if the cancer persists, cancer patients will undergo some type of surgery. The main objective of the surgery will be to remove tumors, tissues or areas with cancerous cells.
Surgery is also used by doctors to diagnose the disease and determine how serious it is.
If the cancer has not spread, surgery is the best way to get rid of the disease. As well as a traditional operation, the doctors also combat some types of cancer with:
- Laser surgery
Uses high intensity light rays to reduce or vaporize the cancerous cells. Used to treat many types of cancer.
Very cold material, such as a liquid nitrogen spray or cold probe, is used to freeze and destroy cancer cells or cells that may become cancerous.
- Laser surgery
- Mohs surgery
Suitable for extracting cancer from sensitive areas of the skin, such as around the eye, and to evaluate the depth of the cancer. This type of surgery consists of carefully extracting the layer of cancer with a scalpel.
- Mohs surgery
- Laparoscopic surgery
A small camera and surgical equipment are inserted into the body through various incisions, and the surgeon watches what the camera captures on a monitor. The smallest incisions require a faster recovery and a lower risk of complication.
- Laparoscopic surgery
- Robotic surgery
The surgeon uses manual controls informing the robot of how to operate the surgical tools in order to carry out the operation.
- Robotic surgery
This is one of the most common treatments for cancer. It uses certain medication to destroy cancer cells or to stop them from growing and spreading to other parts of the body.
It is made up of a combination of treatments, and can be administered alone, with surgery or with radiotherapy. Other types of anti-cancer medication can also be formulated to go alongside chemotherapy.
These anti-cancer medicines can be administered in two ways: orally (via tablets) or intravenously (the medication is administered via injections).
It is possible to visit a clinic or hospital to receive this medication through an intravenous (IV) drip or infusion.
Depending on the type of cancer and its severity, chemotherapy can be given daily, weekly or monthly. To help the body recover its strength or develop new healthy cells, the doctor may recommend taking the medication for a few weeks, before taking break.
May be a combination of various medicine or only one, according to:
- Your type of cancer
- Whether you have had cancer before
- Whether you have other health problems such as diabetes or heart, kidney or liver disease.
Medication used in chemotherapy
There are dozens of medicines used in chemotherapy. They are divided into groups according to how they work and their compounds. Each group destroys or reduces cancer cells in a different way.
How do they work?: they damage the DNA of cancer cells to prevent them from duplicating.
What do they treat?: many different types of cancer, such as leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma and sarcoma, as well as breast, lung and ovarian cancer.
Which are they?: cyclophosphamide, melphalan, temozolomide, carboplatin, cisplatin or oxaliplatin.
How do they work?: they interfere with the normal metabolism of cells, causing them to stop growing.
What do they treat?: often used to treat leukemia, as well as breast, ovarian and intestinal cancer.
Which are they?: 5-fluorouracil, 6-mercaptopurine, cytarabine, gemcitabine and methotrexate, among many others.
How do they work?: attack the enzymes in the DNA of cancer cells that help them to divide and grow.
What do they treat?: works for many different types of cancer.
Which are they?: actinomycin-D, bleomycin, daunorubicin and doxorubicin, among others.
How do they work?: prevent the cancer cells from making more copies of themselves. They can also prevent the body from producing the proteins that the cancer cells need to grow.
What do they treat?: can be prescribed for breast of lung cancer or types of myeloma, leukemia and lymphoma.
Which are they?: docetaxel, estramustine, paclitaxel and vinblastine.
How do they work?: attack the enzymes that help cancer cells divide and grow.
What do they treat?: some types of leukemia and lung, ovarian and intestinal cancer, among others.
Which are they?: etoposide, irinotecan, teniposide and topotecan.
How do they work?: act as hormones for the body.
What do they treat?: useful for treating resulting inflammation and can relieve nausea and vomiting after the patient undergoes a round of chemotherapy. They can also prevent allergic reactions to some medication.
Which are they?: prednisone, methylprednisolone and dexamethasone.
The side effects of chemotherapy vary from person to person, even if patients have the same type of cancer and receive the same type of treatment. Some of the most common side effects include:
- Hair loss
- Mouth ulcers
This type of treatment uses high energy particles or rays to destroy or damage cancer cells to stop them from spreading. Can be administered as a single treatment, or can be combined with surgery or chemotherapy.
Radiation in itself is not painful, but afterwards it can cause pain, fatigue and skin irritation around the area where treatment was received.
The side effects depend on the area of the cancer. For example, if radiation is received in the head or the neck, it can cause dry mouth.
Special medicine or other substances are used to block the growth and spread of cancer to the inside of specific molecules (“specific molecular objects”) that are involved in the growth and progression of cancer.
Targeted therapies against cancer are sometimes called “molecular targeted therapies”, “precision medicine” or similar.
Targeted therapy differs from standard chemotherapy in several ways:
- They target specific, molecular objects associated with cancer, whilst the majority of standard chemotherapies affect normal cells and cancer cells that divide rapidly.
- They are deliberately chosen or designed to interact with their target, whilst many standard chemotherapies destroy all cells.
- Targeted therapies are often cytostatic, (meaning they block the proliferation of tumor cells), whilst standard chemotherapy agents are cytotoxic (they kill tumor cells).
Research regarding targeted therapies is currently focusing on developing anti-cancer drugs. They are a cornerstone of precision medicine, a type of medication that uses information about a person’s genes and proteins to prevent, diagnose and treat diseases.
Many targeted therapies against cancer have been approved by the US Food and Drug Association (FDA) to treat specific types of cancer.
Some are still being tested in clinical trials (research studies performed in people), and many others are still undergoing preclinical trials (research studies on animals).
Immunotherapy or biological therapy
Cancer starts when a cell in the body mutates. Researchers hope that immunotherapy treatment will be able to leverage the body’s natural defenses to combat cancer cells, as they would with a bacteria, a virus or an allergy.
This treatment consists of injecting a small amount of the disease into the body, to activate the organism’s natural defenses so that it becomes increasingly immune to the cancer itself. The aim of this treatment is to fortify the body’s defenses, helping the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.
Types of immunotherapy against cancer
These stimulate the immune system so that it responds more aggressively to the tumor. Essentially, the T cells (white blood cells of the immune system) from a tumor are removed to determine which specific cells would best combat its growth. Then the genes of those specific cells are fortified by means of genetic modification, before being injected back into the system.
Adoptive cell transfer
Aims to increase the natural capacity of T cells to fight cancer. This treatment is sometimes used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children and young adults and some types of B-cell lymphomas in adults that have not improved with other treatments.
Preventative or treatment vaccines
They use a substance called an antigen, which boosts the immune system.
A preventative anti-cancer vaccine is used against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is linked to cervical and anal cancer, among others.
Treatment vaccines aim to help T cells detect and destroy specific cancers. They can also be designed to increase the amount of antibodies (cells that destroy harmful invaders) in the system.
Hormone therapy consists of taking medication that changes the way certain hormones function or interfere with the body’s ability to produce them. This type of treatment is often used when hormones play an important role in cancer development, as is the case with prostate and breast cancer.
Stem cell transplant
Can be especially beneficial for people with blood-related cancer, such as leukemia or lymphoma.
Consists of the removal of cells, such as red or white blood cells, that chemotherapy or radiation has destroyed. These cells are then fortified in the laboratory before being returned to the body.
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