Introduction to Cancer Treatment

There are a variety of cancer treatments available at The Cancer Center at St. Peter’s. Our cancer care team determines what type of treatment will be most effective for each patient.

Chemotherapy is a process using drugs to treat cancer. You might take these drugs before or after cancer surgery. You might take them alone or with radiation. Most chemo drugs are given in one of the following ways:

  • You might simply swallow a pill. If your chemo is a pill or liquid, you can often take it at home, but you need to follow your doctor's directions carefully.
  • Chemo can be given like a flu shot. The shots may be given in your doctor's office, a hospital, a clinic, or at home.
  • Most often, chemo is given right into your veins through a needle or tiny plastic tube (called a catheter). This is called an IV (intravenous) injection.

You may take chemo once a day, once a week, or even once a month, depending on the type of cancer you have and the chemo you are taking. How long you take chemo also depends on the type of cancer, how you respond to the drugs, and what length of time led to the best treatment results in research studies.

Hormonal Therapy uses naturally occurring substances in the body that stimulate the growth of hormone–sensitive tissues, such as the breast or prostate gland.

When cancer arises in breast or prostate tissue, its growth and spread may be caused by the body’s own hormones. Therefore, drugs that block hormone production or change the way hormones work, and/or removal of organs that secrete hormones, such as the ovaries or testicles, are ways of fighting cancer. Hormone therapy, similar to chemotherapy, is a systemic treatment that may affect cancer cells throughout the body.

Targeted Therapy is one that is designed to treat only the cancer cells and minimize damage to normal, healthy cells. Cancer treatments that “target” cancer cells may offer the advantage of reduced treatment–related side effects and improved outcomes.

Biological Therapy is a type of treatment that uses the body’s immune system to facilitate the killing of cancer cells. Types of biological therapy include interferon, interleukin, monoclonal antibodies, colony stimulating factors (cytokines), and vaccines.

Radiation Therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and stop them from spreading. 

Radiation therapy can be external (when a machine outside your body aims radiation at cancer cells) or internal (when radiation is put inside your body, in or near the cancer cells). 

St. Peter’s relies on a specially–trained team for delivery of radiation therapy. This team includes the radiation oncologist, a medical physicist, two radiation therapists, a radiation therapy nurse, and a dosimetrist.

Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) is an advanced mode of high-precision radiotherapy that utilizes computer-controlled x–ray accelerators to deliver precise radiation doses to a malignant tumor or specific areas within the tumor.

The radiation dose is designed to conform to the three–dimensional (3–D) shape of the tumor by modulating—or controlling—the intensity of the radiation beam to focus a higher radiation dose to the tumor while minimizing radiation exposure to surrounding normal tissues.

Treatment is carefully planned by using 3–D computed tomography (CT) images of the patient in conjunction with computerized dose calculations to determine the dose intensity pattern that will best conform to the tumor shape.

Typically, combinations of several intensity–modulated fields coming from different beam directions produce a custom–tailored radiation dose that maximizes tumor dose while also protecting adjacent normal tissues.

Brachytherapy is a type of radiation therapy in which radioactive material sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters is placed directly into or near a tumor.

Surgery alone is an option for some types of cancer. However, it may or may not eradicate the cancer entirely and requires close follow–up. In some cases, additional treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation, may also be needed.

Surgery may be required as a post–treatment, following chemotherapy or radiation. 

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