A look at cancer treatments

As we continue to try and understand more about cancer, this week’s article will look at some of the different tools doctors have in their toolbox when it comes to treating cancer.

In making a decision on how to treat cancer doctors will consider the type of cancer a patient has, whether the cancer has spread to another part of the body as well as the patient’s age and overall health.

The most commonly known treatment for cancer is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a treatment regimen that involves the administration of drugs that are designed to stop cancer cells from multiplying and killing them.

Some healthy cells are also damaged in the process and this leads to some of the side effects associated with chemotherapy such as hair loss. The vast majority of these side effects are reversible once chemotherapy is discontinued.

Chemotherapy can either be administered intravenously through a vein or port or in some cases oral medication (tablets) are available.

The type of drug used and the regimen prescribed depends on a variety of factors including some of those mentioned above. Most types of chemotherapy can be administered in the Cayman Islands.

The second most common form of cancer treatment is radiation therapy or radiotherapy. It uses ionizing radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It does this by damaging the genetic material of cancer cells.

While doctors try to target just the cancer cells and preserve healthy cells some healthy cells do get damaged in the process. Like with chemotherapy, the healthy cells can recover from the effects once the treatment is discontinued.

There are several different types of radiation therapy. There is external radiation when the treatment is delivered by a machine, there is internal radiation – also known as brachytherapy – in which radioactive pellets are placed inside the body at the site of the affected area and there is systemic radiation therapy in which radioactive materials go throughout the body.

In addition to treating an area affected by cancer, radiation is sometimes administered to a cancer patient in an area in which there is no sign of cancer.

In this case it is given as a preventative and is know as prophylactic therapy. In other cases it is used as a pain killer in persons with more advanced cancer e.g. where the cancer has spread to the bones and is known as palliative radiation therapy.

The second article in this series will look at some of the other cancer treatments available including hormonal therapy and biological therapy.

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