Cancers take on many different forms (there are over 200 varieties which are currently documented) and can affect people from all walks of life: treatments are equally varied, with a number of key methods available to target different kinds of cancer – this article will take a look at some of the main categories of cancer treatment available in modern medicine:
Where possible, tumours and cancerous tissue can be removed via surgical excision – this is usually carried out when the cancer has not yet had a chance to metastasise – if this has already happened, it makes the complete removal of the cancerous mass a much more challenging prospect; given the increased knowledge we have today of the number of dangers presented by even the smallest traces of cancerous matter, it is now commonplace to remove any tumours or cancerous tissue as early as possible; often, surgery is the first step in a complete plan which an oncologist will set up in order to create a combination of treatments;
Aside from serving as a direct treatment, surgery can sometimes be used to diagnose the cancer in order to determine the best course of action for the duration of the cancer management.
This is a method of cancer management which uses drugs to target cancerous cells in the body: whilst surgery is an accurate, direct method of dealing with cancer, chemotherapy affects the whole body and can have an impact on a person’s wellbeing:
- The immune system is impacted, which makes it easier for the patient to pick up infections
- Organ damage is sometimes triggered by chemotherapy
- Stomach upsets are a common side effect, with nausea, vomiting and abnormal bowel movements being symptoms which will last for around a week after finishing treatment
- Hair loss can occur – this is usually a temporary effect
The main reason for the negative side effects associated with chemotherapy is that the drugs used in this form of treatment normally work by targeting any cells in the body which rapidly divide: unfortunately, hair follicles, the stomach lining and bone marrow fall under this category – however, usually the body repairs these cells after a course of chemotherapy;
As with surgery, Chemotherapy is often combined with other types of treatment.
This method uses doses of radiation to target tumours and cancerous material, with the goal being to kill cancer cells and reduce the size of growths – whilst healthy tissue can also be affected during a course of radiotherapy, most of the non-cancerous cells will be able to recover with time;
In order to minimise damage to tissue surrounding the cancerous cells, radiotherapy is normally administered in an accurately targeted manner, with multiple beams of radiation being fired into the body at an intersecting point, for example, converging at a tumour – normally, a CT scan will be used to map out the point of convergence;
Newer techniques use a robotic arm which rapidly tracks the target area and administers low doses of radiation from multiple angles – the benefit to this technique is that surrounding healthy tissue is at much lower risk of being damaged.
There are many other commonly used treatments which are used to combat cancer:
- Immunotherapy uses the body’s immune system to target cancerous growths
- Targeted therapy – similar to chemotherapy, in that medication is given, this treatment differs in that it doesn’t just go after rapidly dividing cells: it specifically targets elements of the cancerous material which are necessary for it to grow
- Hormone treatment involves tweaking the body’s hormones – by blocking or providing certain hormones, some cancers can be affected
Following a course of treatment, patients can benefit from physiotherapy and occupational therapy sessions: cancer is a life-changing disease, which has long-lasting effects beyond treatment: there is no ‘silver bullet’ which will wipe cancer out in one sweep: instead, many stages exist in the path to defeating it – with the correct combination of treatments and an effective rehabilitation plan, cancer sufferers can make a complete recovery.
Wesley Forsyth is an occupational therapist who specialises in the rehabilitation of cancer patients: “Occupational Therapy Jobs provide a means of helping people to recover from a course of treatment, such as chemotherapy – everyday tasks can become problematic, whilst individuals can become stressed and fatigued: the road to a complete recovery is often a long path, however, occupational therapists can help to ease the journey”