The 3 main types of cancer treatment are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Certain forms of cancer may also benefit from additional therapies such as immunotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy, which are outlined here.
Cancer surgery is everything from a biopsy at diagnosis, to a tumor mass or tissue removal. Surgery may seem like the most logical from of treatment, to simply remove the tumor, but not all patients are candidates for surgery due to other underlying illnesses or other factors.
Once a tumor grows to a certain size, it becomes vascularized, meaning it will have a blood supply system with its own blood vessels. At this point it may be dangerous to remove the tumor and disrupt blood flow in the body.
For more advanced cancers, chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be prescribed first in order to shrink the tumor before removing it surgically.
This treatment involves the use of a drug or a 'cocktail' of different drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is a ‘systemic’ treatment, meaning it affects your entire body. Side effects are dependent on the type of drug(s) you require and can last for months, even years after treatment.
When considering chemo as a treatment option it's important to understand the potential benefits, but also how it may negatively affect the quality of life. For certain patients, especially if you're elderly or have other illnesses, the side effects may be too adverse for your body to tolerate. If your Oncologist doesn't recommend alternative treatments for you, you should inquire if alternative treatments might serve you better.
Unlike chemo, radiation therapy is a localized treatment, meaning it only affects the area of the body you receive treatment. Since radiation has a cumulative effect, side effects normally won’t occur for the two weeks, or 10 treatments.
If you are prescribed less than 5-10 treatments, your side effects may not occur until after your treatments have completed. If you are receiving a single high dose treatment, however, the side effects may occur immediately.
Once you've done the research and agreed to treatment, here are some questions you will want to have answered by your healthcare team:
What kind of preparation is needed for this treatment?
Where will the treatment be done (in a hospital or other clinic)?
Will I be able to drive myself to and from treatment?
Will I have to take time off of work during treatment?
How many treatments will I require?
Will my insurance cover the cost of treatment?
Are there any risks associated with this treatment?
If my side effects from treatment become unmanageable will I continue to receive treatment?
Are there risks associated with not completing treatment?
How can I best contact you if I have concerns or an emergency medical situation?
As your cancer is unique, your treatment care plan will be as well. It's important to remember this when you hear or read about others with the same type of cancer and not compare your journey with theirs. Your doctors will build your treatment care plan based on several different factors according to your unique diagnosis.