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Cancer Part 3: Treatments, Side Effects and Prognosis

Cancer Part 3: Treatments, Side Effects and Prognosis
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Treatments for cancer vary from single treatments to multiple treatments. Here’s an overview of what’s done and what’s new. 

Cancer treatments depend largely on the type of concer that you have and how advanced the condition has become. Some cancer patients have one treatment while others have a combination. These combinations could include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy or hormone therapy.

There are also clinical trials which is an effort to find new and advanced forms of treatment but they have a downside. Some people in clinical trials are given a “placebo.” This is essentially a sugar pill to measure the reality of a new drug against a variety of patients receiving the actual treatment. Make sure you communicate that you want the “actual” new treatment. Clinical trials are important, but if I had a serious form of cancer I wouldn’t want to be taking a sugar pill while other members of the trilal might actually be seeing real results.


Typically, types of treatments are determined by the type, location and extent of any cancer. Surgery is often an option for highly, localized forms of cancer in parts of the body that are not critical to life. Melanomas and tumors in parts of the body like the breast can often be treated surgically, although you may have to have a followup with other forms of treatment.

Some cancers cannot be treated surgically simply because they affect an organ that is critical to life like the pancreas, or do not offer surgical solutions like leukemia and advanced bone cancer. In those instances, other approaches are used.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation thereay is used to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells, to prevent cancer from returning if other treatments such as surgery have removed a tumor, and in some instances can cure cancer.   It usually takes days or weeks for cancer cells to start to die as a result of radiation therapy and the targeted cancer cells continue to die for weeks or months after the therapy has ended.

The type of radiation therapy a cancer patient receives is dependent on the type of cancer and it’s location.   External beam radiation treatments is a beam of radiation aimed at specific parts of the body affected by cancer cells.

Internal radiation therapy involves either the surgical insertion of a soild next to or close to a tumor, or it is ingested as liquid to travel throughout the body to find and kill cancer cells.


Chemotherapy slows or stops the growth of cancer cells and to lessen the chance that a cancer will return and in some instances will cure cancer. It is also used to shrink tumors either to lessen any pain caused by the tumor or to reduce the size of the tumor prior to surgery. It could be the only form of treatment used but typically it is used in concert with other treatments depending on the type of cancer, if the cancer has metastasized, or if a patient presents other health problems.

Side effects include fatigue, nausea, hair loss and mouth sores. This is because it also damages certain normal cells during the treatment but the side effects ease after the treatment has been concluded. The extent and number of side affects varies depending on dosage, frequency of dosage, the general health of the patient and other factors.


There are multiple approaches to immunotherapy depending on the type of cancer, other treatments and the general health of the patient.   The treatments can involve:

  • Monoclonal antibodies that bind to specific targets in a patient to help the immune system destroy cancer cells.
  • Adoptive cell transfer which helps the body to boost the natural ability of certain white blood cells called “T-cells” by either marking cancer cells so it’s easier for the T-cells to find and kill the cancer cells. A patient’s T-cells can also be grown in the lab to further boost the immune system.
  • Other forms of immunotherapy include Cykotines which are proteins that help the immune system response. They are commonly referred to as “interferons,” and “interleukins.”
  • Treatment vaccines also boost the body’s immune system response.
  • BCG therapy or Bacillus Calmette-Guerin used to treat bladder cancer. As a weakened form of a bacteria that causes tuberculosis it causes an immune response when injected into the bladder that causes the immune system to target both the bacteria and cancer cells.

Targeted therapies 

Targeted therapies represent new thinking related to precision medicine. It targets the changes in cancer cells that help them to grow and spread allowing physicians to design better and more customized therapies and treatments.

This form of therapy often requires a biopsy to determine the targets. There are risks with any biopsy so this should be discussed with the doctor or physician team treating the condition.   Here are some of the key findings related to targeted therapy:

  • Cancer cells can hide from the immune system. Targeted therapy marks them for destruction.
  • Affects proteins encouraging cancer cells to divide and inhibit or stop
  • Tumors need new blood vessels to form. Certain targeted therapies help to stop the formation of these new blood vessels to restrict the growth or even kill the tumor.
  • Delivery of cancer cell killing substances combined with chemotherapy drugs, toxins and radiation substances targeted to cancer cells.

There are side effects to targeted therapy including diarrhea and liver problems in addition to some of the other side-effects caused by chemotherapy and hormonal therapy including fatigue, mouth soures plus skin problems, high blood pressure and other possibilities a doctor could describe based on age and physical condition.

Other therapies 

These therapies are somewhat experimental or are used highly specific circumstances. They include Hormone Therapy, Stem Cell Transplant and the emerging science of Precision Medicine. Given their complexity and variability we are offering links if you want to learn more.

The Good News

Contrary to popular belief there really are cures for cancer. It’s all a question of catching it early, the type of cancer and the general health of the patient as they pursue a course of treatment. As time goes on new and more targeted therapies will emerge in addition to a growing number of vacines to prevent its occurrence in the first place. In the meantime we all need to stay vigilant, avoid conditions and substances that can cause cancer, look for signs and symptoms and proactively pursue a course of treatment if necessary.


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