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Cancer: Common Treatments


Cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy or a combination of these therapies. The choice of therapy depends on the 

location, grade and stage of the tumor. In addition, the functional status of the patient is an important factor in determining the therapy. The aim of any treatment is complete removal of the cancer, but this is rarely achieved with any therapy. 

Surgery is the ideal treatment if the cancer can be removed completely, but this is not always possible. In many cases, the tumor has spread and thus surgery is only possible for the small localized lesions. Surgery is also required to see the stage of the cancer and to determine if it has spread. The predicted outcome of any cancer depends on what stage it is at.

Surgery is not a small undertaking and it is also associated with a fair number of complications. However, the treatment of lung, stomach, colon and many other solid cancers is surgery, when they are found early. Surgery has a minimal role in cancers which have spread. Other associated complications of surgery include pain, large incisions, and restriction of function which may last a long time.

In most cancers, radiation therapy is used to kill the cancer cells or shrink the cancer. Radiation therapy can be applied either via an external beam machine or small “rice sized” implants can be placed in the body where the tumors is (brachytherapy). 

Chemotherapy involves the treatment of cancer with anticancer drugs. These drugs have the ability to destroy rapidly dividing cells but they are not specific only for cancer cells. Rapidly dividing normal cells on the skin and hair can also be affected by these drugs. However, normal cells usually have the ability to repair themselves after the chemotherapy.

Virtually all of the anticancer drugs are toxic at the applied dosages and they destroy a patient's natural resistance to many diseases, including cancer. Because these drugs cannot distinguish between cancerous and normal cells, they disrupt or kill normal, healthy cells throughout the body besides attacking the tumor. Chemotherapy has only a limited effectiveness against any tumor that is large or has spread; its successes are generally with small, very early tumors.

Targeted therapy, which first became available in the late 1990s, has had a significant impact in the treatment of some types of cancer, and is currently a very active research area. Targeted therapy usually involves the use of some molecules as homing devices which bind to some part of the cancer cell and eventually destroy it. Monoclonal antibodies are classic examples of targeted therapy.

Most individuals think that when it comes to cancer, the treatment is limited to the cancer. However, the majority of individuals with cancer also develop other symptoms like pain, nausea, vomiting, bleeding, weight loss, depression and anxiety. To improve the quality of life, most individuals need medications, herbal or nutritional therapy to help cope with these serious side effects. Some individuals may have agonizing pain and require narcotics like morphine.

Despite billions of dollars invested in research, the treatment of cancers with conventional medicine has not had a great deal of success. For this reason, many individuals have been turning to alternative medicine.

Note: Some statements in this article may not be approved by the FDA. This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice.

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