Cancer Treatments

Cancer is treated and controlled in many ways. This information provides a general description of cancer treatments. It is not a substitute for medical advice from your health care provider.


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Biological therapy helps the body fight cancer, manages side effects, and helps prevent cancer. Examples of this type of treatment include monoclonal antibodies (see targeted therapy), growth factors, and vaccines.

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Bone marrow/blood stem cell transplant is a procedure to replace blood-forming stem cells. Learn more about this treatment or the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program, which provides peripheral blood and bone marrow-derived stem cell transplants to patients with cancerous and non-cancerous conditions.

Learn more in our video about HCI's Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinic.

 

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Chemotherapy uses drugs to fight cancer throughout the body. Most chemotherapy is given through a needle or catheter placed in a vein in the arm or through an implanted port in the chest. Some types of chemotherapy are taken by mouth. Learn more about this treatment or watch our introduction to chemotherapy video below. Also, view our chemotherapy infusion education factsheets.

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Clinical trials study and discover new or improved ways to treat, diagnose, and prevent cancer. Some clinical trials discover new treatments, while others study new delivery methods or combinations of treatments already in use. Some clinical trials investigate ways to find cancer as early as possible and to improve cancer survivorship and quality of life. Visit HCI's clinical trials website to view current clinical trials and learn how to participate.

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Complementary and integrative therapies are used along with standard treatments (such as surgery and chemotherapy) to help reduce symptoms, manage treatment side effects, and to improve overall wellness. Examples include acupuncture, massage therapy, dietary changes, and meditation. Visit our Supportive Oncology and Survivorship service or the G. Mitchell Morris Cancer Learning Center to learn more about these therapies.

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Hormone therapy keeps cancer cells from getting or using the hormones they need to grow. Hormone therapy uses medicines or surgery:

  • Medicines: The doctor gives certain drugs that stop the production of certain hormones or prevent hormones from working.
  • Surgery: Surgeons remove organs that make hormones, such as the ovaries or testicles.

Hormone therapy for cancer can impact a person's fertility. Learn more about cancer and fertility.

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Palliative care enhances cancer treatment by improving quality of life for patients. It involves management of pain, as well as cancer symptoms and treatment side effects; mental health and spiritual support; assistance with medical decision making and advance care planning; and integrative therapies. Palliative care is part of cancer treatment any time physical or psychological symptoms interfere with quality of life. Visit our Supportive Oncology and Survivorship service for more information.

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Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Doctors use several types of radiation therapy:

  • External radiation: The radiation comes from a large machine outside the body. Most people go to a hospital or clinic for treatment five days a week for several weeks.
  • Internal radiation (also called brachytherapy): The radiation comes from radioactive material placed in seeds, needles, or thin plastic tubes that are put in or near the tissue. The patient usually stays in the hospital for this treatment. The implants generally remain in place for several days.
  • Systemic radiation: The radiation comes from liquid or capsules containing radioactive material that travels throughout the body. The patient swallows the liquid or capsules or receives an injection. This type of radiation therapy can be used to treat cancer or control pain from cancer that has spread to the bone. Only a few types of cancer are currently treated in this way.

Learn more about this therapy or view our radiation therapy factsheets.

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Surgery removes the tumor and some tissue around it. Taking some nearby tissue may help prevent the tumor from growing back and can help the doctor know if all the cancer was removed. The surgeon may also remove some nearby lymph nodes. Learn more about surgery here.

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Targeted therapy is a type of biological therapy that uses medicines to find specific cancer cells and to stop cancer from growing. An example of this treatment is monoclonal antibodies, which are specialized proteins that can attach to cancer cells and carry cancer-fighting substances directly to a tumor.

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Watchful waiting (also called active surveillance or expectant management) means health care providers closely watch a patient's condition, but do not give treatment unless symptoms appear or change. During watchful waiting, patients are regularly given certain medical tests to watch for early signs that the condition is getting worse.

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Source: National Cancer Institute

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