Cancer Treatment

While there are many different treatments for cancer, they all seek to remove cancerous tumours from the body. Treatments depend on the type and stage of the cancer and on the age and health of the recipient and can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy and hormone therapy. Although these procedures aim to leave the recipient cancer free, eradicating every cancerous cell can be a difficult and drawn out process. Even one remaining cell has the potential to grow into a new tumour, causing the cancer to relapse, so these treatments are prescribed in individually structured courses and combinations in order to maximise the chances of being given the all clear as soon as possible.

What are the different cancer treatments?

Surgery is one of the more common treatment options, though the type and timing of the surgery can depend greatly on which type of cancer it is, where it is and what stage it is at. However, most cancer patients will at some point undergo surgery in the form of a biopsy, where the tumour or a sample of it, is carefully removed from the body and sent to specialist laboratories for analysis. The results of the analysis help doctors to decide whether the cancer has been completely removed or whether to proceed with further, more intensive treatments.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is one of the treatment options for cancer that has spread or if there is a risk that it will. Chemotherapy involves taking a powerful medicine, either as a pill, injection or infusion, that specifically targets the type of cancer the recipient is suffering from. There are over 100 different kinds of of chemotherapy medication, with more being developed all the time, that are used to treat cancers of all kinds. Principally chemotherapy is used to eradicate the tumour completely, however, it can also be used to make other treatments like radiotherapy and surgery more effective by weakening the tumour and to reduce the risk of the tumour returning after treatment. Chemotherapy can also be used to relieve the symptoms and slow down the growth of advanced cancer, where a cure might not be possible. Even though chemotherapy can be very effective at combating cancer and treating its symptoms, it does have side effects as the medication cannot see the difference between the fast-growing cancer cells and other fast-growing cells like blood cells, skin cells and stomach lining. Unfortunately this means that whilst chemotherapy treats the recipient’s cancer, it can also have a poisonous effect on the body which can lead to weakness, nausea and vomiting and varying degrees of hair loss. Whilst some people may only experience minimal side effects, chemotherapy can be a deeply unpleasant and difficult experience for others so it is important to remember that many, if not all, of the side effects will completely disappear once treatment is stopped.

What is radiotherapy?

Radiotherapy is also used to treat cancers that have spread, or are likely to. Radiotherapy can be applied externally as concentrated beams of radiation targeted at the tumour or internally through radioactive material temporarily placed or injected near the cancer. The radiation damages the genetic structure of cancerous cells, causing them to die. Radiotherapy is used cure cancer, either alone or in combination with other treatments, as well as to shrink cancers ready for surgical removal and also to destroy any cancerous traces left behind after surgery. It can also be used to treat and control the symptoms of incurable cancers. Depending on the size, type and location of the cancer, the type and length of the radiotherapy treatment will vary, but it is an effective and painless procedure used in the treatment plans of almost half of all cancer patients worldwide. Whilst radiotherapy attacks the DNA of cancerous cells it can also have a temporary effect on nearby healthy cells which can lead to sore skin, tiredness and sometimes hair loss, although these cells usually repair themselves within a few weeks after treatment. Although rare, radiotherapy on certain areas of the body can lead to long-term or permanent effects with treatment of the groin and genitals able to cause infertility.

Both immunotherapy and hormone therapy involve altering the levels of certain chemicals in your body to treat very specific kinds of cancer. Prostate cancer and some breast cancers require the presence of certain hormones to live, so hormone therapy is used to lower the hormone levels in the body and starve the tumours. Immunotherapy encourages the body’s immune system to seek out and attack cancerous cells and is particularly effective against kidney cancer. Depending on the age, type and location of a tumour, these treatments they may or may not be used as a part of a treatment plan due to their specific targets.

How can I get advice about cancer treatments?

Supportive care from qualified nurses and professionals is also a vital part of cancer treatment. The emotional and psychological health of cancer patients and their families is of the utmost importance. If you need help or advice about cancer and treatment options, TripMedic can arrange a consultation with a professional near you in your own language.

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