Overview

The Best Plan for Each Person

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The Best Plan for Each Person

The cancer treatment a patient gets depends on the type, location, and stage of the disease. Doctors often use a combination of treatments. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are the most common treatments for cancer.

In designing a treatment plan, the health care team also considers these factors:

  • patient’s medical history
  • current health
  • patient’s personal preferences

Your cancer care team will work with you to decide on the best treatment plan.

Common Types of Cancer Treatments

BLOOD & MARROW TRANSPLANT

Bone marrow/blood stem cell transplant is a procedure to replace blood-forming stem cells. This is used to treat people with cancerous and non-cancerous conditions.

Stem cell transplant is a procedure to replace cells that produce blood. The patient receives high doses of chemotherapy, radiation, or both, to kill cancer cells and healthy cells in the bone marrow where blood is formed. The patient then receives new blood-forming stem cells through an IV. Healthy blood cells develop from the transplanted stem cells.

Learn more about blood and marrow transplant

CHEMOTHERAPY

Chemotherapy uses drugs to fight cancer throughout the body. These drugs destroy cancer cells by stopping them from growing or multiplying.

Healthy cells can also be harmed, especially those that divide quickly. Harm to healthy cells causes temporary side effects until these cells can repair themselves.

Some chemotherapy is given through a needle or catheter placed in a vein in the arm. Sometimes it goes through a port implanted in the chest. Other types of chemotherapy are taken by mouth.

Learn more about our Chemotherapy & Infusion Centers.

RADIATION

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. X-rays, gamma rays, and charged particles are types of radiation used for cancer treatment.

The radiation may be delivered by a machine outside the body (called external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (called internal radiation therapy, or brachytherapy).

Systemic radiation therapy uses radioactive substances, such as radioactive iodine, that travel in the blood to kill cancer cells.

About half of all cancer patients receive some type of radiation therapy sometime during the course of their treatment.

Learn more about Radiation Oncology at Huntsman Cancer Institute.

SURGERY

Several types of surgery are related to cancer treatment:

  • Diagnostic surgery (also called biopsy) removes all or part of a tumor so a pathologist can look at it under a microscope. This shows if it is cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign). A biopsy can be done in different ways:
    • Incisional biopsy: The surgeon removes a piece of the tumor.
    • Excisional biopsy: The surgeon removes the entire tumor.
    • Needle biopsy: The doctor inserts a needle into the tumor and removes a sample. When a wide needle is used, it is called a core biopsy. When a thin needle is used, it is called a fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy. Needle biopsies are often done without surgery.
  • Treatment surgery removes the cancerous tumor and some tissue around it. Taking some nearby tissue may help prevent cancer cells from growing back. It also helps the care team know if all the cancer was removed. The surgeon may also remove some nearby lymph nodes.
  • Reconstructive surgery rebuilds the body part or function that is removed due to cancer. Breast reconstruction after a mastectomy is one example. Sometimes patients with head and neck cancer need surgery to restore the ability to swallow or speak. 
  • Palliative surgery eases pain or manages cancer symptoms. It is used to improve a patient’s quality of life, not to remove or try to cure the cancer. For example, palliative surgery would remove a tumor that may be pressing on surrounding nerves. 
  • Preventive surgery removes a certain area of the body at high risk for developing cancer. It is usually meant for people who have inherited a very high risk of cancer. For example, changes in the BRCA gene give some women a high risk of getting breast cancer. Women who know they have inherited a change in BRCA may choose a preventive (also called prophylactic) mastectomy. This surgery removes the breasts before breast cancer develops.

HCI is one of only a few cancer centers in the country to offer unique surgical capabilities like Intraoperative MRI, robotic surgery, and others. 

Learn more surgeries for cancer treatment from our patient education factsheets.

TARGETED THERAPIES

Most medical treatments have been designed for the average patient. This means the same medicine, dose, and timeline are given based on the type of disease. Because of this, treatments can be very successful for some people but not for others.

Also called precision medicine or personalized medicine, targeted therapy takes into account the individual differences in people’s genes, environments, and lifestyles to better understand how and why a cancer has developed. This helps plan for treatments that may be most effective for a specific person.

Learn more about targeted cancer therapies from the National Cancer Institute. 

These are types of targeted therapy: 

  • Biological therapy
  • Hormone therapy

BIOLOGICAL THERAPY

Also called immunotherapy, this uses substances made from living organisms or similar substances created in a laboratory to treat cancer, manage side effects, and help prevent cancer.

Biological therapies use your immune system to fight certain types of cancer. Vaccines are an example of this type of treatment. Learn more about biological therapies from the National Cancer Institute.

HORMONE THERAPY

This treatment keeps cancer cells from getting or using the hormones they need to grow. This therapy is used to treat prostate and breast cancers.

It is most often used along with other cancer treatments. When used with other treatments, hormone therapy can do these things:

  • Make a tumor smaller before surgery or radiation therapy, called neoadjuvant therapy.
  • Lower the risk that cancer will come back after the main treatment, called adjuvant therapy.
  • Destroy cancer cells that have returned or spread to other parts of your body.

Learn more about hormone therapy from the National Cancer Institute.

Hormone Therapy & Fertility

Hormone therapy for cancer can impact a person’s fertility. If you know you want or may want to have children in the future, be sure to talk to your health care team about fertility options before starting hormone therapy. 

Learn more about fertility preservation for cancer patients from the University of Utah Center for Reproductive Medicine.

WATCHFUL WAITING

Also called active surveillance or expectant management, watchful waiting means health care providers closely track 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 check for early signs that the condition is getting worse.