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CANCER TREATMENT OPTIONS

Cancer is actually a group of diseases, each requiring a different type of treatment plan.Treatment also depends on:

  • Age of the patient
  • General health of the patient
  • The stage to which cancer has progressed.

The types of treatment currently employed are:

Surgery: The cancerous tumour and the tissue around it containing cancer cells are cut away to contain the spread of the disease. Until recently, surgery was the principal method of treating cancer and is still the most common. Surgery is most effective when the cancer is small, contained to an organ that is removable. Surgery may be the best option for breast cancer, head and neck cancers, and early cancers of the cervix and lung, many skin cancers, soft tissue cancers and gastrointestinal cancers.

Radiotherapy: This is the second most common form of treatment. Radioactive x-rays or gamma rays can penetrate the cell wall and damage the nucleus of the cancer cells and prevents further multiplication of the cells. About half of all cancer patients receive radiotherapy either as the first line of treatment or in combination with other treatment. Some cancers are radiosensitive and can be cured completely by radiotherapy.

Radiation can be given before surgery to reduce the size of the tumour, or after surgical removal of a tumour to destroy a small number of cancer cells that could not be surgically removed.

There is, however, a limit to the amount of radiation that can be administered. Radiation can also produce “ radiation sickness”, where some healthy cells are also destroyed along with cancer cells. This is being curtailed by more efficient techniques, which help concentrate radiation on the tumour itself, without affecting the surrounding tissue.

Brachytherapy, or interstitial radiation therapy, places the source of radiation directly in the tumour, as an implant. Needles containing radioactive cobalt or gold, radium or other substances are inserted into the tumour, so that the radiation can bombard the malignant cells without affecting the healthy cells. These are removed after the treatment.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a process where cancer is treated by using chemicals (drugs). These chemicals can circulate in the body and are not confined to a single area. The advantages with chemotherapy are:

  • Capable of treating cancer that is systemic and not localised.
  • Useful in treating leukaemia and lymphoma that are not confined to one part of the body.
  • Can be used to relieve the symptoms that may be caused by cancer.
  • Slow down the spread of cancer

The problem with chemotherapy is that it affects the normal, fast growing body cells such as those in the bone marrow, gastrointestinal tract, reproductive system and hair follicles. This may result in:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Extreme Fatigue
  • Vulnerability to infection
  • Poor clotting of blood
  • Sores in the mouth and throat
  • Problems with bowel movement resulting in diarrhoea or constipation.

Some other organs may also be affected depending on the drugs and the dosage.

There are some cancers that can be cured by chemotherapy that were previously considered fatal. Cancer treatment is usually multimodal and chemotherapy is used in combination with other treatment options.

During chemotherapy a patient may not be able to do strenuous work.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy works by getting the body’s defence system to recognise cancer cells as alien and fight them as the immune system will fight any infection. This type of treatment is still in the experimental stage.

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