Hearing your cancer diagnosis for the first time can leave you feeling anxious, depressed and even hopeless. However, with today’s treatment options, cancer is not a death sentence. There are many therapies that your oncologist may use depending on your diagnosis, but you should know your options as well. Here are six of your strongest allies in the fight against cancer:
Perhaps the most well-known leading treatment for cancer, chemotherapy uses medication to target fast-growing cells but doesn’t recognize normal cells from cancerous ones. This is why chemotherapy is typically given cyclically, allowing healthy cells to replenish in between treatments. Chemotherapy drugs can be administered via oral medication, intravenously or injected directly into the cancerous site. Chemotherapy can lower the immune system, so you must speak with your doctor about extra precautions to avoid infection.
Hormone therapy is used against cancers that thrive off of the male or female hormones produced by your body. Hormone therapy works by either interrupting the body’s natural production of hormones or the hormone receptors on the tumour itself. This stops the growth of tumours by cutting off their source of food. This method of treatment is only effective on hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast or colon cancer. Hormone therapy is administered via an oral tablet or through injection.
Cancer can sometimes hide from your immune system or overpower it. In this case, immunotherapy may be used to give your body the boost it needs to find and fight cancer. Immunotherapy is given in cycles by injection, IV or administered directly into the bladder. Different methods of immunotherapy include:
Cancer Vaccines – prompt your immune system to target and destroy cancer cells
Monoclonal antibodies – proteins designed to attach to cancer cells and flag them for immune response.
Checkpoint inhibitors – medicine that boosts the immune system by interacting with your body’s natural T-cells.
CAR T-cell therapy – lab manufactured T-cells that recognize and bind to cancer proteins.
Once the immune system has been stimulated, it may start to attack healthy cells as well, so it is important to discuss any side effects with your doctor.
Similar in procedure to an X-ray, radiation is used on specific areas to impede the spread of cancer cells. This procedure is quick and painless, and since cancer cells are more susceptible to radiation, the damage to healthy cells is minimal. Radiation therapy will not leave permanent traces of radiation in your system, so it is perfectly safe for you to be around others. There is a potential for long-term side effects that should be discussed with your provider, but usually, side effects are temporary and dissipate when your treatment ends.
Surgery is effective against cancers that present as solid tumours that can easily be removed from surrounding healthy tissue. Surgery may be used as the sole treatment method or in conjunction with other therapies. Surgery is not effective against cancers that have spread or that affect the whole body, like leukemia. Recovery time can vary depending on the site of your surgery, so your provider should go over your procedure with you in detail.
These are therapies that target cancer cells and their growth signals. When these signals are blocked, it stops the replication of cells that cause cancer. Unlike other treatments, targeted therapies only attack cancer cells. Some of these therapies are the cutting edge of cancer research and only available via clinical trial. Your provider must be able to tell you which trials you qualify for and get you more information on your specific treatment.
With these advanced treatment options, winning the battle against cancer is possible. Know your options and make a battle plan with your care team to kick cancer’s butt. There are bright days ahead, and they are worth fighting for.