What are the treatments for cancer?

In order to treat your cancer, your doctor needs to know the location of the tumor, the stage (whether it has spread), and whether you are strong enough to handle the treatment.

Cancer treatment can take the following forms:

  • Chemotherapy: This treatment uses powerful drugs that destroy the cancer cells. Chemotherapy is delivered orally (pills) or through an intravenous (IV) line.
  • Radiation : This is a treatment that kills cancerous cells with radiation (high-energy rays). Radiation therapy can either be internal (placed within the body) or external (delivered by a machine outside the body). Note: In some cases, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are given to a patient at the same time.
  • Surgery: A surgeon removes the tumor, along with the surrounding area (in some cases).
  • Hormone therapy: Hormones (substances produced by the glands to regulate organ functions) might be given to the patient to block other hormones that might cause cancer. For example, men with prostate cancer might be given hormones to keep testosterone (which contributes to prostate cancer) at bay.
  • Biological response modifier therapy: Biological response modifier therapy uses natural or artificial (created in a laboratory) materials to rebuild the body's natural defenses against disease. Biological therapy includes immunotherapy, gene therapy, vaccines, monoclonal antibody therapy, and some targeted therapies. (Monoclonal antibodies are created in a laboratory to work like natural antibodies, which are produced by the body's immune system to fight disease.)
  • Immunotherapy: A type of biological therapy that uses substances that work on the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection, and other diseases. Some types of immunotherapy only target certain cells of the immune system. Others affect the immune system in a general way. Types of immunotherapy include cytokines, vaccines, bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG), and some monoclonal antibodies.
  • Stem cell transplantation: Stem cells (immature cells from which all blood cells develop) are removed from the patient's circulating blood or bone marrow and then returned after chemotherapy treatment.

What are the side effects of cancer treatments?

  • Chemotherapy: Side effects include hair loss, fatigue, nausea, vomiting.
  • Radiation: Side effects include fatigue, hair loss, and skin problems (darkening, dryness, itchiness).
  • Surgery: Pain and weakness are possible side effects of surgery.
  • Hormone therapy: This therapy can result in fatigue, water retention (bloating), hot flashes, impotence, and blood clots.
  • Biological response modifier therapy/immunotherapy: These therapies can cause symptoms that resemble the flu (fever, chills, muscle ache, etc.), skin rash, swelling, and increased tendency to bruise or bleed.
  • Stem cell transplantation: Side effects include nausea, vomiting, flu-like symptoms, and greater risk of infection.

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