Disabled World: Revised/Updated: 2019/05/03
Synopsis: Latest developments in tumor and cancer treatment methods including advances in chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments. Complete removal of the cancer without damage to the rest of the body is the goal of treatment. Cancer can be treated by surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, and targeted therapy.
Cancer can be treated by surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, and targeted therapy (including immunotherapy such as monoclonal antibody therapy). The choice of therapy depends upon the location and grade of the tumor and the stage of the disease, as well as the general state of the patient (performance status). A number of experimental cancer treatments are also under development.
Complete removal of the cancer without damage to the rest of the body is the goal of treatment. Sometimes this can be accomplished by surgery, but the propensity of cancers to invade adjacent tissue or to spread to distant sites by microscopic metastasis often limits its effectiveness. The effectiveness of chemotherapy is often limited by toxicity to other tissues in the body. Radiation can also cause damage to normal tissue.
Defining Some Cancer Terms:
Cancer Immunotherapy refers to a diverse set of therapeutic strategies designed to induce the patient's own immune system to fight the tumor. Contemporary methods for generating an immune response against tumors include intravesical BCG immunotherapy for superficial bladder cancer, and use of interferons and other cytokines to induce an immune response in renal cell carcinoma and melanoma patients.
Color medical illustration of a mask placed on a patients head to ensure the patient is in the exact same position for each radiation treatment. Source: National Cancer Institute (NCI) - Creator: NIH Medical Arts.
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. This constitutes the use of agents specific for the deregulated proteins of cancer cells. Small molecule targeted therapy drugs are generally inhibitors of enzymatic domains on mutated, over-expressed, or otherwise critical proteins within the cancer cell.
The growth of some cancers can be inhibited by providing or blocking certain hormones. Common examples of hormone-sensitive tumors include certain types of breast and prostate cancers. Removing or blocking estrogen or testosterone is often an important additional treatment. In certain cancers, administration of hormone agonists, such as progestogens may be therapeutically beneficial.
Because "cancer" refers to a class of diseases, it is unlikely that there will ever be a single "cure for cancer" any more than there will be a single treatment for all infectious diseases.
Although the control of the symptoms of cancer is not typically thought of as a treatment directed at the cancer, it is an important determinant of the quality of life of cancer patients, and plays an important role in the decision whether the patient is able to undergo other treatments.
Although doctors generally have the therapeutic skills to reduce pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hemorrhage and other common problems in cancer patients, the multidisciplinary specialty of palliative care has arisen specifically in response to the symptom control needs of this group of patients. This is an especially important aspect of care for those patients whose disease is not a good candidate for other forms of treatment.
As most treatments for cancer involve significantly unpleasant side effects, a patient with little realistic hope of a cure may choose to seek palliative care only, eschewing more radical therapies in exchange for a prolonged period of normal living.
New research may make the early detection of cancer as easy as a simple blood test. This test, called the "lymphocyte genome sensitivity" (LGS) test, could not only detect some cancers earlier than ever before, but it may eliminate the need for some types of biopsies, as well as identify those more likely to develop cancer in the future. A blood test to detect cancer and determine one's risk for cancer is a game-changer. A test like this, which is sophisticated in design and simple to perform, could make effective cancer screening available in places where traditional medical technology might not be available.