Introduction to Cancer Treatment
There is no longer a “one-size-fits-all” approach to cancer treatment. Even among patients with the same type of cancer, the behavior of the cancer and its response to treatment can vary widely. By exploring the reasons for this variation, researchers have begun to pave the way for more personalized cancer treatment options. The fact that The Jones Clinic is independent allows our practice the freedom to provide highly personalized medicine based on your specific illness and needs. Our treatment plans are not dictated by cost-saving policies put in place to protect a hospital’s bottom line.
It is becoming increasingly clear that specific characteristics of cancer cells and cancer patients can have a profound impact on prognosis and treatment outcome. Although factoring these characteristics into treatment decisions makes cancer care more complex, it also offers the promise of improved outcomes.
Several factors influence your treatment plan, including the specific characteristics of your cancer, your overall condition and whether the goal of treatment is to cure your cancer, keep your cancer from spreading or to relieve the symptoms caused by cancer. Depending on these factors, your Jones Clinic physician may recommend a single or several of the following types of treatment to be most effective.
Surgery is used to diagnose cancer, determine its stage and to treat cancer. One common type of surgery that may be used to help with diagnosing cancer is a biopsy. A biopsy involves taking a tissue sample from the suspected cancer area for examination by a specialist in a laboratory. A biopsy is often performed in the physician’s office or in an outpatient surgery center. A positive biopsy indicates the presence of cancer, while a negative biopsy may indicate that no cancer is present in the sample.
When surgery is used for treatment, the cancer and some tissue adjacent to the cancer are typically removed. In addition to providing local treatment of the cancer, information gained during surgery is useful in predicting the likelihood of cancer recurrence and whether other treatment options will be necessary.
Chemotherapy is any treatment involving the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Cancer chemotherapy may consist of single drugs or combinations of drugs and can be administered through a vein, injected into a body cavity or delivered orally in the form of a pill. Chemotherapy is different from surgery or radiation therapy in that the cancer-fighting drugs circulate in the blood to parts of the body where the cancer may have spread and can kill or eliminate cancers cells at sites great distances from the original cancer. As a result, chemotherapy is considered a systemic treatment.
More than half of all people diagnosed with cancer receive chemotherapy. For millions of people who have cancers that respond well to chemotherapy, this approach helps treat their cancer effectively, enabling them to enjoy full, productive lives. Furthermore, many side effects once associated with chemotherapy are now easily prevented or controlled, allowing many people to work, travel and participate in many of their other normal activities while receiving chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, uses high-energy rays to damage or kill cancer cells by preventing them from growing and dividing. Similar to surgery, radiation therapy is a local treatment used to eliminate or destroy visible tumors. Radiation therapy is not typically useful in eliminating cancer cells that have already spread to other parts of the body.
Radiotherapy may be externally or internally delivered. External radiation delivers high-energy rays directly to the tumor site from a machine outside the body. Internal radiation, or brachytherapy, involves the implantation of a small amount of radioactive material in or near the cancer. Radiation may be used to cure or control cancer, or to ease some of the symptoms caused by cancer. It is often used with other types of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and surgery, but is sometimes used alone.
High-dose Chemotherapy and Stem Cell Transplantation
High-dose chemotherapy (HDC) and bone marrow or blood stem cell transplantation (SCT) is often the best treatment available for many kinds of cancers.
When higher doses of therapy kill more cancer than lower doses, doctors say there is a “dose response effect.” The delivery of higher doses of therapy is referred to as “dose intensive or high-dose therapy.” Unfortunately, the higher doses of therapy used to destroy cancer cells also cause damage to normal cells. The body’s normal cells that are most sensitive to destruction by high-dose therapy are the blood-producing stem cells in the bone marrow. As such, it is important to collect stem cells prior to treatment with high-dose chemotherapy so that the stem cells can then be infused to “rescue” bone marrow and hasten blood cell production and immune system recovery.
Hormones are naturally occurring substances in the body that stimulate growth in sensitive tissue, such as the breast or prostate gland. When cancer arises in breast or prostate tissue, its growth and spread may be caused by the body’s own hormones. Therefore, drugs that block hormone production or change the way hormones work and/or removal of organs that secrete hormones, such as the ovaries or testicles, are ways of fighting cancer. Hormone therapy, similar to chemotherapy, is a systemic treatment in that it may affect cancer cells throughout the body.
A targeted therapy is one that is designed to treat only the cancer cells and minimize damage to normal, healthy cells. Cancer treatments that “target” cancer cells may offer the advantage of reduced treatment-related side effects and improved outcomes, as conventional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, cannot distinguish between cancer cells and healthy cells.
Biological therapy is referred to by many terms, including immunologic therapy, immunotherapy or biotherapy. Biological therapy is a type of treatment that uses the body’s immune system to facilitate the killing of cancer cells. Types of biological therapy include interferon, interleukin, monoclonal antibodies, colony stimulating factors (cytokines) and vaccines.