Cancer Treatments

While many seek cancer treatments, it is our opinion that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In other words, you can adopt lifestyle changes to reduce your chance of getting cancer, or minimise its effects.

Here is some information from a variety of organisations on ways to treat cancer.

The Victorian Cancer Council of Australia suggests the following treatments.

  1. Surgery
  2. Immunotherapy
  3. Hormone Therapy
  4. Targeted Therapy
  5. Chemotherapy
  6. Radiation

Information on some of the main types of treatment comes from the American Cancer Society http://cancer.org .

Treatment Types

Find out what you need to know about the most common types of cancer treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and many others. Learn how they work and why they are used, and get an idea of what to expect and how they might affect you if you’re getting them.

Surgery

Surgery can be used to diagnose, treat, or even help prevent cancer in some cases. Most people with cancer will have some type of surgery. It often offers the greatest chance for cure, especially if the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body. Learn more about surgery here.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy (chemo) is the use of medicines or drugs to treat cancer. The thought of having chemotherapy frightens many people. But knowing what chemotherapy is, how it works, and what to expect can often help calm your fears. It can also give you a better sense of control over your cancer treatment.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy particles or waves to destroy or damage cancer cells. It is one of the most common treatments for cancer, either by itself or along with other forms of treatment. Learn more about radiation therapy in this section.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy is a newer type of cancer treatment that uses drugs or other substances to more precisely identify and attack cancer cells, usually while doing little damage to normal cells. Targeted therapy is a growing part of many cancer treatment regimens. Find out more about it here.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is treatment that uses your body’s own immune system to help fight cancer. Get information about the different types of immunotherapy and the types of cancer they are used to treat.

Note: most of these treatments center around destroying or removing cancer cells, while causing minimal damage to good cells. There are some more drastic treatments such aas stem cell replacement where the blood is drained from the body, treated and then replaced.

Side Effects Of Cancer Treatment

Naturally these treatments present a number of side effects.

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What are the risks and side effects of cancer surgery?

Any type of medical procedure has risks, and surgery is no exception. Risk depends partly on the type of surgery you are having and the surgeon’s experience with it. The length of the surgery and the type of anesthesia used are other important factors. Your overall health affects the process and outcome a great deal, too. What’s most important is that the expected benefits outweigh the possible risks.

Advances in surgical techniques and our understanding of how to prevent infections have made modern surgery safer and less likely to damage healthy tissues than it’s ever been. Still, there’s always some risk involved.

Before you decide to have any medical procedure done, it’s important that you understand the risks. Different procedures have different kinds of risks and side effects. We cannot list all of the possible problems (complications) of every type of surgery here. Be sure to discuss the details of your case with your doctor, who can give you a better idea about what your actual risks are.

During surgery

Possible complications during surgery may be caused by the surgery itself, the drugs used (anesthesia), or an underlying disease. Generally speaking, the more complex the surgery is, the greater the risk.

Minor operations and taking tissue samples (biopsies) usually pose less risk than major surgery. Pain at the surgery site is the most common problem. Infections at the site and reactions to the drugs used to numb the area (local anesthesia) are also possible.

Complications in major surgery are not common, but can include:

Bleeding: Bleeding occurs any time you cut into the body and is part of any surgery, but it can usually be controlled. Doctors try to limit the risk of bleeding by being very careful when working near blood vessels. Still, in many operations there’s a certain amount of controlled blood loss. Rarely, bleeding can be more serious.

If you lose a certain amount of blood, you may need blood transfusions. There’s a small risk of problems with transfusions, some of which can be serious. If you’re concerned about needing a blood transfusion, talk to your doctor before surgery. You may be able to save (bank) some of your own blood in the weeks before surgery so it can be given back to you during the operation if needed. This is called autologous transfusion. For more information, see Blood Transfusion and Donation, which you can read online or get by calling our toll-free number.

Damage to nearby tissues: Internal organs and blood vessels can be damaged during surgery. Again, doctors are careful to do as little damage as possible.

Drug reactions: Some people have reactions to the drugs used (anesthesia) or other medicines needed during surgery. Although rare, these can be serious because they can cause dangerously low blood pressure. Your heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and other signs will be watched closely throughout the surgery to look for this.

Damage to other organs: Surgery can lead to problems with other organs, such as the lungs, heart, or kidneys. These problems are very rare but can be life-threatening. They are more likely to happen to people who already have problems with these organs. This is why doctors get a complete medical history and do tests to look for possible risks before surgery is done.

After surgery

Some problems after surgery are fairly common, but are not usually life-threatening.

Pain: Almost everyone has some pain after surgery. Pain is normal, but it should not be allowed to slow down your recovery. There are many ways to deal with surgical pain. Medicines for pain range from aspirin and acetaminophen (Tylenol®) to stronger drugs, like codeine and morphine.

You can get more information on pain medicines and how they’re used in our Guide to Controlling Cancer Pain.

Infections: Infection at the site of the incision is a possible problem. Doctors take great care to reduce this risk by cleaning the area and keeping the area around it sterile, but infections do happen. Antibiotics, either as a pill or given through a vein in your arm (IV), are able to treat most infections.

A lung infection (pneumonia) can occur, especially in patients with reduced lung function, such as smokers. Doing deep breathing exercises as soon as possible after surgery helps lessen this risk.

Other infections can develop within the body, especially if the stomach or intestines were opened during the operation. Doctors take great care to try to prevent this. But if it happens, antibiotics will be needed.

Other problems: Other problems are rare, but may be serious.

Bleeding can happen either inside the body (internally) or outside the body (externally). Bleeding can occur if a blood vessel was not sealed off during surgery or if a wound opens up. Serious bleeding may cause the person to need another operation to find the source of the bleeding and stop it.

Blood clots
can form in the deep veins of the legs after surgery, especially if a person stays in bed for a long time. Such a clot can become a serious problem if it breaks loose and travels to another part of the body, such as a lung. This is a big reason why you’ll be encouraged to get out of bed to sit, stand, and walk as soon as possible.

Slow recovery of other body functions, such as activity in the bowels, can sometimes become serious, too. Getting out of bed and walking around as soon as possible after surgery can help lower this risk.

Other life-threatening complications are very rare and hard to predict, but sometimes do happen. Your surgical team will take many steps to reduce your risk of complications. This includes things like shaving and cleaning the area before cutting the skin to avoid infection, use of special leg pumps and low-dose blood thinners to avoid blood clots, and breathing treatments (respiratory therapy) to help prevent pneumonia. Ask your doctor about the possible complications of your surgery and what can and will be done to help prevent them.

Side effects of radiotherapy

Radiotherapy works by killing cells that are dividing rapidly. This is why it works on cancer cells. It also explains why radiotherapy causes side effects, as it acts on cells in the body that naturally divide rapidly, such as those in the lining of the gut, the skin, the bladder and the bone marrow.

Not everyone experiences side effects, although usually, one or two side effects occur. Side effects will depend on the type and dose of radiotherapy you receive and which part of your body is being treated.

After treatment is complete, almost all side effects will disappear. Some may return after months or years, and may affect other tissues in the treatment area. It is important to discuss side effects with your doctor because treatments are available.

General side effects may include:

  • fatigue
  • nausea or loss of appetite
  • skin changes – including dryness, reddening, itching, blistering, flaking, tanning and superficial ulceration (which will heal in two to six weeks). Heat, sunlight, harsh soaps, chemicals, dyes and abrasive washing may make skin symptoms worse. Your radiotherapy nurse will discuss skincare with you. You may need special gels, creams and dressings
  • hair loss (alopecia) – this may affect parts of the body that were treated, including the head, facial hair, armpits and pubic hair
  • mouth issues, including mouth dryness, difficulty chewing and swallowing, and dental decay. You may need to see a specialist dentist prior to treatment to prevent future dental problems
  • chest problems, including coughing, shortness of breath and painful swallowing
  • abdominal problems, including diarrhoea, bleeding (rarely), a burning sensation when urinating, the urge to urinate more often, vaginal dryness and discomfort. If the ovaries are present and working, they may cease to work after four weeks and menopause may affect some women. People with prior bowel disorders, such as diverticular disease, may find their symptoms become worse.
  • You should notify your doctor at once if you experience severe or distressing side effects that do not respond to medication, such as severe vomiting, chronic diarrhoea, bleeding or some other change in your health that worries you.
  • If you can’t contact your doctor, go to the emergency department of your nearest hospital. Tell the staff that you are having radiotherapy.

Ref: Victorian Cancer Society

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

The following are a list of possible side effects of chemotherapy.

  • Feeling tired and lacking energy
  • Loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Skin problems
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Mouth sores
  • Memory and concentration changes
  • Effects on the blood and immune system
  • Nerve and muscle effects
  • Change in hearing
  • Sex and fertility

Evaluating Natural Cancer Treatments

The following guidelines are extracted from the American Cancer Society web site.

Can cancer be prevented?

Sometimes cancer can be prevented. It’s quite possible that more than half of cancer deaths could be prevented – if everyone avoided tobacco, controlled their weight, got enough physical exercise, and took other steps to improve their health. Of course, that’s a big “if.”

There’s no guaranteed way to prevent cancer.

So far, nothing has been found that’s proven to prevent every cancer. Right now we know there are ways to help prevent many cancers in large groups of people. And there are things you can do that might help reduce your personal chance of getting cancer. But, as of today, even the best methods to try to reduce your cancer risk (called cancer risk reduction) cannot prevent all cancers.

Because certain methods and drugs can help prevent some cancers in large groups of people, we will still use the term cancer prevention here.

Early detection can help save lives

If cancer does develop, there are early detection tests that can improve the odds that some types of cancer will be found at an early stage (when they’re small and easier to treat). Although early detection alone rarely prevents cancer, it can often prevent cancer deaths.

When you hear about something new to prevent cancer

You’ve just heard about something new that might possibly prevent cancer, something you haven’t heard about before. If you’re worried about getting cancer, you might wonder if this might work for you. Even though your doctor might not have mentioned it, you want to find out more about this. You want every possible chance of never getting cancer.

But before you put your money, time, and energy on the line, you need to know more about the new prevention method so you can decide if it’s worth it. At this point, you probably don’t know if it will actually reduce your risk of cancer, or if it could even harm you. Here are some of the things you may hear about:

FDA-approved drugs: The new method may be a drug that your doctor recommends to reduce your cancer risk. It’s pretty easy to find out more about FDA-approved drugs, since there are many trustworthy sources and careful scientific studies involved.

Methods being studied for FDA approval: Maybe the method you heard about hasn’t been approved, but is “in the pipeline” to become a mainstream cancer prevention method in the future. It may be a pill, a treatment, or something else. It’s usually not too hard to find information about these kinds of treatments. If the treatment has ever been approved by the FDA for any medical use, you can usually find good information on its risks and side effects. But it may be harder to find out about how well it works for cancer prevention.

Non-prescription herbs, supplements, diets, and special treatments: Other methods you hear about may be herbs, vitamins, other dietary supplements, health tonics, “body cleansings,” or special diets that are supposed to boost the immune system, among many other things. In the past, almost no studies were done to look at these methods, but researchers are now trying to study more of them in the same careful ways that they study other methods.

Lifestyle changes: You may hear about other things you can do that can help reduce your cancer risk. For instance, quitting tobacco, eating more fruits and vegetables, getting more exercise, cutting back on alcohol and red meats, and staying at a healthy weight have all been given more attention lately. Studies on some of these are fairly easy to find.

Whatever method you’re thinking about, take the time to see what you can learn about it from sources you trust. Here are some ideas to help you when you’re searching for more information.

Look at where the information came from

To start, you’ll want to consider the source of the information on the cancer prevention method.

  • Was there a report in a newspaper or magazine?
  • Was it discussed on a television or radio program?
  • Did the news come from an Internet site that also happens to be selling the treatment or is otherwise connected to the seller?
  • Did a health food store or nutrition center employee suggest it?
  • Was there a study published in a respected, peer-reviewed medical journal such as the Lancet or the Journal of the National Cancer Institute?
  • Did someone tell you how well this new method is working for them or someone else?

This information, taken from the American Cancer Society tells us why there are very few proper studies on alternative cancer treatments. Basically mainstream medicine until recently has not taken them seriously, and we know there is more profit in medical procedures and treatments. This is a sad fact of modern society.

This information presents mainstream medicine’s ways to deal with cancer. Unfortunately, some of the side effects are what leads people to look towards alternate treatments. In our opinion, these are worth exploring, even though they are not always backed by the amount of research main stream medicine demands.