Treatments and drugsBy Mayo Clinic Staff
Many cancer treatments are available. Your treatment options will depend on several factors, such as the type and stage of your cancer, your general health, and your preferences. Together you and your doctor can weigh the benefits and risks of each cancer treatment to determine which is best for you.
Goals of cancer treatment
Cancer treatments have different objectives, such as:
- Cure. The goal of treatment is to achieve a cure for your cancer, allowing you to live a normal life span. This may or may not be possible, depending on your specific situation.
Primary treatment. The goal of a primary treatment is to completely remove the cancer from your body or kill the cancer cells.
Any cancer treatment can be used as a primary treatment, but the most common primary cancer treatment for the most common cancers is surgery. If your cancer is particularly sensitive to radiation therapy or chemotherapy, you may receive one of those therapies as your primary treatment.
Adjuvant treatment. The goal of adjuvant therapy is to kill any cancer cells that may remain after primary treatment in order to reduce the chance that the cancer will recur.
Any cancer treatment can be used as an adjuvant therapy. Common adjuvant therapies include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy.
Palliative treatment. Palliative treatments may help relieve side effects of treatment or signs and symptoms caused by cancer itself. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormone therapy can all be used to relieve signs and symptoms. Medications may relieve symptoms such as pain and shortness of breath.
Palliative treatment can be used at the same time as other treatments intended to cure your cancer.
Doctors have many tools when it comes to treating cancer. Cancer treatment options include:
- Surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove the cancer or as much of the cancer as possible.
- Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. Radiation treatment can come from a machine outside your body (external beam radiation), or it can be placed inside your body (brachytherapy).
Stem cell transplant. Stem cell transplant is also known as bone marrow transplant. Your bone marrow is the material inside your bones that makes blood cells from blood stem cells. A stem cell transplant can use your own stem cells or stem cells from a donor.
A stem cell transplant allows your doctor to use higher doses of chemotherapy to treat your cancer. It may also be used to replace diseased bone marrow.
- Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy, also known as biological therapy, uses your body's immune system to fight cancer. Cancer can survive unchecked in your body because your immune system doesn't recognize it as an intruder. Immunotherapy can help your immune system "see" the cancer and attack it.
- Hormone therapy. Some types of cancer are fueled by your body's hormones. Examples include breast cancer and prostate cancer. Removing those hormones from the body or blocking their effects may cause the cancer cells to stop growing.
- Targeted drug therapy. Targeted drug treatment focuses on specific abnormalities within cancer cells that allow them to survive.
- Clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies to investigate new ways of treating cancer. Thousands of cancer clinical trials are underway.
Other treatments may be available to you, depending on your type of cancer.
May 23, 2015
- Deaths and mortality. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm. Accessed April 23, 2015.
- Cancer: All sites. Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results. http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/all.html. Accessed April 23, 2015.
- Symptoms. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/diagnosis-staging/symptoms. Accessed April 23, 2015.
- Kushi LH, et al. American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention: Reducing the risk of cancer with healthy food choices and physical activity. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2012;62:30.
- Niederhuber JE, et al., eds. Genetic and epigenetic alterations in cancer. In: Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2014. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 23, 2015.
- Ulcerative colitis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/colitis/index.htm. Accessed April 23, 2015.
- NINDS paraneoplastic syndromes information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/paraneoplastic/paraneoplastic.htm. Accessed April 23, 2015.
- Deng GE, et al. Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for integrative oncology: Complementary therapies and botanicals. Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology. 2009;7:85.
- Taking time: Support for people with cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/takingtime. Accessed April 23, 2015.
- Moynihan TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. May 1, 2015.
- Hypercalcemia (high level of calcium in the blood). Merck Manual Home Edition. http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/hormonal-and-metabolic-disorders/electrolyte-balance/hypercalcemia-high-level-of-calcium-in-the-blood. Accessed April 23, 2015.
- What is cancer? National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/what-is-cancer. Accessed April 23, 2015.
- Cancer prevention overview (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/prevention/overview/patient/page1/AllPages. Accessed April 23, 2015.
- The genetics of cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/causes-prevention/genetics. Accessed April 23, 2015.
- Understanding cancer risk. Cancer.Net. http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/prevention-and-healthy-living/understanding-cancer-risk. Accessed April 23. 2015.
- Cancer screening overview (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/screening/overview/HealthProfessional. Accessed April 23, 2015.
- Diagnosis. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/diagnosis-staging/diagnosis. Accessed April 23, 2015.
- Staging. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/diagnosis-staging/staging. Accessed April 23, 2015.
- Making decisions about cancer treatment. Cancer.Net. http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/making-decisions-about-cancer-treatment. Accessed April 23, 2015.
- How cancer is treated. Cancer.Net. http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated. Accessed April 23, 2015.