| How do oncologists decide which the best treatment is? Which therapies have the best success rates?
Surviving cancer involves four steps:
1. Timely diagnosis: cancer diagnosis.
2. Treatment: cancer treatment options.
3. Recovery and rehabilitation: cancer surgery recovery.
4. Regular follow-up.
When cancer is diagnosed, patients receive help through all four stages from a dedicated team of specialists, usually led by an oncologist (tumor specialist) who the patient is referred to by a family doctor. Members of the cancer team conduct various tests, interpret the results and advise on options such as surgery and chemotherapy. Ultimately, however, all decisions about treatment rest with the patient, who needs to feel confident and knowledgeable about the situation. Doctors are trained to help, advise and support, and welcome it when patients ask questions and take an active part in decision-making. Three main types of cancer treatment are used, either singly or in combination.
Minor cancer surgery alone completely cures 90 per cent of certain types of skin cancer. Surgery can also be an effective treatment for cancer of the breast, lung, bowel and uterus, particularly if the disease has not spread beyond the original site (metastasis).
Modern chemotherapy has greatly increased the chance of surviving certain cancers, in particular breast cancer and some types of leukemia (which once used to be almost always fatal but now sometimes needs no other treatment than drugs). Chemotherapy is also frequently used in treating Hodgkin's disease and for tumors of the bone marrow.
Radiation treatment is sometimes the first option for cancer treatment, particularly in certain skin cancers. But not all cancers are sensitive to radiation and the deeper down the problem is, the harder it is to treat in this way - and the more difficult it is to prevent damage occurring to healthy tissue. Where it is appropriate, however, cure rates can be outstanding - as high as 90 per cent when used in conjunction with surgery for some skin cancers.
Side Effects Of Treatments
Why do cancer treatments seem to have such harsh and unpleasant side effects? Can anything be done to ease them?
There is some good news for cancer patients - the latest treatments are not only better at combating the illness, but are also safer and less debilitating to patients. Although no two cancer treatments are exactly the same, most patients face some combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy - an onslaught that can be hard on the body.
Agents powerful enough to wipe out cancer cells can also damage or even destroy normal cells, causing side effects such as hair loss, nausea, fatigue or infection. But although unpleasant at the time, most problems are only temporary. Recent improvements in chemotherapy have produced drugs that are able to selectively attack malignant cells only, significantly reducing side effects. Although some improvements have also been made in radiotherapy patients can still experience unpleasant side effects. The severity depends largely on the patient's initial state of health. Tiredness and nausea are the most common problems and both can be eased by medication. Depression is another frequent side effect, and many radiotherapy centers now employ counselors who are specially trained to offer psychological support during treatment. Pain control has been improved as well. Some pain is alleviated by cancer treatment itself but pain-relieving drugs are often given - aspirin, ibuprofen, paracetamol, codeine, or even morphine, may all be used.
Does Cancer Hurt?
• Need more information? See: Guide to Cancer
• Got another question? See: Womens Health Questions
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