Today is an encouraging time to be a part of cancer care. A revolution is occurring that is changing the way we treat patients. No longer is chemotherapy our only option. Chemotherapy will most likely always be a necessary evil. It is often effective, but can have negative effects on a person’s immune system, physical and mental health. Because we all have a unique genetic make-up not all treatments will work the same for each person. Thankfully scientists are making great strides in identifying mutations in cancer cells that can be targeted for treatment. This has greatly expanded our arsenal of treatment options. Each cancer is different and different factors such as stage, age, health and genetics will help your doctor to determine a treatment plan this is right for you. Here are some options:
- Immunotherapy is a specialized treatment that uses certain parts of a person’s immune system to fight cancer. The immune system is a complex network of processes that helps your body fight disease and infection and once it learns to fight a strain of the disease, it can easily defend against it again. Immunotherapy is a less toxic alternative to help patients control and sometimes cure their disease. It offers a long-term solution by training the body’s natural defense system to attack cancer cells and is often a good option for patients who have become resistant to chemotherapy or radiation. Like other cancer treatments, it comes with side effects including flu-like symptoms and fatigue.
- Oral Chemo. Chemotherapy in the pill form uses strong drugs to kill cancer—it only differs from traditional chemo because rather than being administered by IV, the patient takes it by pill or liquid. This form of chemo is just as strong and effective, but patients can take it in the comfort of their own home rather than having every treatment administered at a clinic. Unfortunately, it exhibits most of the same symptoms as traditional chemo does such as hair loss, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms. It also has higher costs so patients sometimes have to pay more for the medication. Patients taking oral chemo still need to see their cancer care team regularly to note changes and to track the chemo plan’s effectiveness.
- Hormone Therapy. Used for breast cancer cases, hormone therapy lowers and sometimes stops estrogen in the body. The majority of breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive and high estrogen levels help cancer grow and spread. This therapy is typically used to treat cancer that has come back or spread to different parts of the body. This treatment is a systematic therapy meaning it reaches cancer cells anywhere within the body, rather than being confined to the breast. It does cause some menopausal-like symptoms as well as some more serious long-term ones such as a higher risk of blood clots.
- Radiation. Radiation is delivered by a machine outside of the body that uses high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. This therapy targets the part of the body needing to be treated rather than exposing the whole body to treatment as chemo does. The goal of radiation is to kill cancer cells with as little harm as possible to healthy cells. It’s often used to cure early-stage cancers, stop recurring and treat symptoms caused by advanced cancers. Radiation does cause early and late side effects including skin irritation, damage to the salivary glands, fatigue, and memory loss.
Southern Cancer Center encourages all patients to know their options and discuss the best treatment path with their physician. For more information on all treatment options contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888-625-6896.