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Methods of Treatment for Cancer

Standard Treatment for Cancer

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Updated May 20, 2014

There are four standard methods of treatment for cancer: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and biologic therapy. Clinical trials may be an option for some as cancer treatment who meet certain study criteria. Others may choose alternative cancer treatments, which are usually not FDA-approved and often given in locations outside of the U.S.

When initially diagnosed with cancer, a cancer specialist, an oncologist, will provide you with the cancer treatment options. He or she will recommend the best treatment plan based on your type of cancer, how far it has spread, and other important factors like your age and general health.

Ultimately, you are the one who makes your treatment decisions based on your doctor's recommendations, possible second opinions, and other information gathered from qualified professionals.

Methods of Treatment for Cancer

Surgery: Surgery can be used to prevent, treat, stage (determine how advanced the cancer is), and diagnose cancer. In relation to cancer treatment, surgery is done to remove tumors or as much of the cancerous tissue as possible. It is often performed in conjunction with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

For those whose cancer is not treatable, palliative surgery may be an option to relieve pain that may be caused by the cancer. Palliative surgery is not intended to treat or cure the cancer, or even to prolong life, but more to lessen discomfort.


Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses of drugs to eliminate cancer cells. Unlike surgery, chemotherapy affects the entire body, not just a specific part. It works by targeting rapidly multiplying cancer cells. Unfortunately, other types of cells in our bodies also multiply at high rates, like hair follicle cells and the cells that line our stomachs. This is why chemo can cause side effects like hair loss and an upset stomach.

Chemotherapy is most commonly given by pill or intravenously (IV), but can be given in other ways. A single type of chemotherapy, or a combination of drugs, may be prescribed for a specific length of time. Like surgery, chemotherapy can be prescribed alone, in conjunction with radiation therapy or biologic therapy.

Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy uses certain types of energy to shrink tumors or eliminate cancer cells. It works by damaging a cancer cell's DNA, making it unable to multiply. Cancer cells are highly sensitive to radiation and typically die when treated. Nearby healthy cells can be damaged as well, but are resilient and are able to fully recover.

Radiation therapy may be given alone, along with chemotherapy, and/or with surgery. The decision to combine radiation therapy with other types of treatment depends on the stage of cancer and other factors.

Biologic or Targeted Therapy:
Biologic therapy is a term for drugs that target characteristics of cancerous tumors. Some types of targeted therapies work by blocking the biological processes of tumors that allow tumors to thrive and grow. Other types of therapies cut off the blood supply to the tumor, causing it to basically starve and die because of a lack of blood.

Targeted therapy is used in select types of cancer and is not available for everyone. It is given in conjunction with other cancer treatments.

Clinical Trials: Research studies of the latest drugs and therapies against many types of cancer are continuously being conducted. This type of research requires human volunteers to test the safety and effectiveness of new therapies. Volunteers must meet the criteria of each study to participate.

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