Cancer can be treated using different types of therapies. The exact choice of therapy will depend on the location, size and spread of the cancer as well as the age and overall health of the patient. Cancer Genome Sequencing is done to determine which cancer the patient exactly has and so which therapy would be most suitable. Each therapy may come with its own side effects, and the doctor will educate you on the same in order to help manage the discomfort and also advise on rehabilitation and changes in your life styles.
Given below are the six modes of therapies used presently to treat cancer.
Surgery can be used for any of these purposes a. To remove the entire tumour. b. To remove a major bulk of the tumour so that other therapies are effective in removing the rest of it. c. To remove tumours that may be exerting pressure on or causing pain to another organ. Surgery is widely used in cancers of the breast, prostate and lung.
The doctor may prescribe blood test, chest x-ray and ECG to assess your readiness for surgery.
Depending on the condition of the cancer, the doctor may choose open surgery or minimally invasive surgery using a laparoscope. In recent years, non-invasive techniques such as Cryosurgery, Lasers, Hyperthermia and Photo-dynamic therapy are being used.
Cancer cells have their own DNA and once that is damaged, their ability to grow or divide diminishes. This is what Radiation therapy achieves. The damaged cancer cells die and are eventually removed by the body. This process of destroying the cancer cells goes on for weeks or months even after the therapy has stopped.
There are 2 types of radiation therapy – external and internal. In external type, a machine outside the body beams radiation at the target spot. In the internal type, a source of radiation is inserted into the body close to the cancerous growth. The source may be solid in nature, in which case the procedure is called brachytherapy, or liquid, in which case it’s called systemic therapy.
As the name implies, chemotherapy involves injecting chemicals into the body with the aim of destroying the cancer cells, slowing or delaying their growth, to prevent their return and shrink the overall size in order to ease pain, pressure or other symptoms. They can be used before another, more effective therapy is applied.
The chemical can be given orally in the forms of pills, capsules or liquids, or given directly into a vein (intravenous) or given as an injection shot to a muscle in the arms, legs or belly. It can be injected into the space between the layers of tissue that cover the brain and spinal cord (intra-thecal) or directly into the peritoneal cavity, which is the area in your body that contains organs such as intestines, stomach and liver. It can be injected directly into the artery that leads to the cancer (intra-arterial) or applied as a topical cream on the skin.
Also Read: Chemotherapy and its role in cancer treatment
The body’s immune system detects disease-causing cells or microbes and generates an immediate response in the form of chemicals or cells that attack the foreign body. For example, when there is a tumour developing in the body, the immune system produces tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes or TILs that try to destroy the cancer cells. Immunotherapy aims at improving this ability in different ways.
- Immune checkpoint inhibitors: these drugs allow immune cells to respond more strongly to cancer.
- T-cell transfer therapy: T-cells are extracted from the body, multiplied in a lab and injected back into the body
- Monoclonal antibodies: These proteins help mark the cancer cells better so that the immune system can fight them better.
- Treatment vaccines: These are specifically aimed at boosting the immune system’s response to cancer cells.
- Immune system modulators: These also enhance the body’s immune response against cancer.
Some cancer cells piggyback on the hormones produced by the body to divide and grow rapidly. Hormonal therapy precisely aims to destroy this behaviour. There are 2 types of Hormonal therapy. One aims at blocking the body’s ability to produce hormones and the second interferes with how hormones behave in the body.
Also Read: What you eat can help you fight cancer
Targeted therapy is similar to immunotherapy and hormonal therapy. As the name implies, this therapy targets those proteins that control how cancer cells grow, divide, and spread. Targeted therapy involves the use of small-molecule drugs or monoclonal antibodies. Small molecule drugs are small enough to enter cells easily, so they are used on targets that are inside cells.Monoclonal antibodiesare proteins produced in the lab and designed to attach to specific targets found on cancer cells. Some of them are also used as markers. That is, they help mark cancer cells so that they can be seen better and destroyed by the immune system.
Stem cell Transplants
Stem cell transplants are procedures that restore blood-forming stem cells in people who have had the same destroyed by chemotherapy or radiation therapy used to treat certain cancers. They do not act on the cancer directly. But in multiple myeloma and some types of leukaemia, they are used to work on the cancer directly.
In addition to the above, there are other treatments that have evolved with time such as Precision Medicine, Angiogenesis inhibitors and Synthetic lethality. However, these have less of a history or track record compared to the above six therapies which is why we have not elaborated on them.
Cancer evokes sharp reactions or emotions from patients and their family members. The perceived pain, discomfort, side-effects, cost of treatment and doubts about the efficacy of treatment – all create a sense of trauma in patients and their family members. What such people need to remember is that cancer treatment is a highly specialized area with an enormous body of ongoing research and innumerable clinical trials being conducted for new drugs or therapies. Newer drugs and medication are helping reduce pain and reverse side-effects better than the past. Super-speciality hospitals that receive philanthropic grants have also reduced the cost for patients who would normally struggle with the price tag.
All these factors have eased the psychological burden for patients or family members, resulting in better outcomes and high recovery rates for patients. It gives hope to thousands of cancer patients and their families, making their personal experience with cancer a lot more positive than their original perceptions.
Kauvery Hospital is globally known for its multidisciplinary services at all its Centers of Excellence, and for its comprehensive, Avant-Grade technology, especially in diagnostics and remedial care in heart diseases, transplantation, vascular and neurosciences medicine. Located in the heart of Trichy (Tennur, Royal Road and Alexandria Road (Cantonment), Chennai, Karaikudi, Hosur and Salem, the hospital also renders adult and pediatric trauma care.
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