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September 20, 2016 | Medical Oncology
After the shock of a cancer diagnosis subsides, your oncologist will review your treatment options with you. The path forward depends upon the type, location and stage of your cancer, as well as your overall health. You may be facing surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy – or a combination of all three. Cancer treatment is very complex, and each patient is unique. Decisions are often made one step at a time as you and your oncology team assess the effectiveness of each procedure and fine-tune your protocol.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to shrink tumors. It causes the cancer cells to stop dividing or die by damaging their DNA. “About half of all cancer patients receive some type of radiation therapy sometime during the course of their treatment,” reports the National Cancer Institute.
The side effects of radiation include redness on the skin in the area that the radiation passes through, fatigue that does not get better with rest, and sometimes loss of appetite and nausea. Most skin reactions and other side effects improve when treatment ends.
Chemotherapy is treatment with cancer-killing drugs that may be given intravenously or orally. The drugs travel through the bloodstream to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells in most parts of the body. Because chemotherapy kills both fast-growing cancer cells and healthy cells, side effects can include hair loss, mouth sores and nausea. These typically subside upon completion of chemotherapy.
An overview of two common cancers and their most effective treatment protocols can help demystify the complex field of cancer treatment.
Lung cancer is currently the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the United States, reports the American Lung Association. Lung cancer can be treated in several different ways depending on the cancer’s type and stage as well as your treatment goals.
In many cases of early stage non-small cell lung cancers and carcinoid tumors, surgery to remove the tumor and surrounding lung tissue is the first choice. This is possible if the cancer is localized, has not spread and the patient’s physical health allows what the American Cancer Society calls “curative or primary surgery.” In some cases, surgery may be combined with chemotherapy or radiation therapy, which can be given before the operation to shrink the tumor or after surgery to kill any cancer cells left behind.
However, if the patient has compromised lung function, perhaps due to asthma or COPD, surgery is not viable due to an increased risk of postoperative complications. Radiation therapy provides better overall survival rates than surgery. In cases of advanced lung cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy may be the only treatment option.
Like all other cancers, treatment for colon cancer is based largely on the stage of the cancer. If the cancer has not spread to the nearby lymph nodes or distant organs — as in stage I and II colon cancers — surgery is often the first or only treatment.
When treating stage III colon cancers that have spread to nearby lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body, surgery is used to remove the section of the colon with the cancer along with the lymph nodes. This is followed by chemotherapy to ensure any remaining cancer cells are eradicated.
Stage IV colon cancers often spread to the liver, lungs, lining of the abdominal cavity or to distant lymph nodes. If surgery is not a viable option due to the spread, chemotherapy will be the main treatment choice.
Regardless of the specific type of cancer you or a loved one is facing, the choice of treatment regimens depends on several factors, including your personal health history and goals. It is possible that you and your oncology team may try a variety of protocols to find the most effective one for your unique situation. It’s important to partner with cancer specialists who understand not only the precise science behind medical and radiation oncology, but also the human aspect of cancer care.
Are you or a loved one faced with the challenge of a cancer diagnosis? Revere Health’s Cancer Center offers individualized care and transparent communication to guide you from the moment of diagnosis through the completion of treatment and ongoing follow-up care. In addition to medical care, we provide financial service counselors for patients as well as support groups and other resources. Disclaimer: Every patient is different and there is no “one size fits all” treatment. Each diagnosis is handled on a case by case basis, and no two are alike. Always discuss your treatment options with a trusted provider.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.