Treatment Options

Cancer detection begins with a complete physical examination, including health and work history information, X-rays and a biopsy using a needle, surgical procedure or other method. Sophisticated testing may be required as well.

After a patient is diagnosed with cancer and has developed a comprehensive treatment plan with a physician, the cancer may be treated several ways: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy. The type of surgery depends on the size and location of the tumor.

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. The use of anti-cancer drugs to treat cancer is called chemotherapy. Hormone therapy is used to keep cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow and may include the use of drugs that change the way hormones work or surgical procedures that remove organs, such as the ovaries and testicles. Sometimes several methods are combined.

Because cancer can spread rapidly and threaten life, the treatments used against this disease must be extremely powerful and may damage healthy cells at the same time, causing patients to suffer unpleasant side effects during the treatment period. Side effects may include loss of appetite, anemia, hair loss, vomiting, blood loss, fatigue, painful swallowing and skin reactions.

Radiation at high levels destroys the ability of cells to grow and divide. Both normal cells and cancer cells are affected, but most normal cells are able to recover quickly. Radiation therapy is usually given five days a week for several weeks.

Drugs used to treat cancer are given to patients by mouth or injection into a muscle, a vein or an artery. The anticancer drugs travel through the bloodstream to almost every part of the body, helping stop the growth of cancer cells. Drug treatment may require the patient to stay at the hospital for a few days so that the drugs' effects on the body can be observed. Treatments may also take place as an outpatient at the hospital, doctor's office or home.

Source: National Cancer Institute