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Your Cancer Treatment Options

The type of treatment you need will depend on the type of cancer you have and the stage of your cancer.

The goal of the treatment may be to remove or shrink the tumour, destroy cancer cells that may have spread, reduce the chance that the cancer will come back or help you deal with symptoms caused by certain cancers.

There are several different types of cancer treatments. They include:
- surgery
- cancer medicines
- radiation therapy
- stem cell transplants

Surgery

Surgery means having an operation to change or remove body tissue or organs. For certain types of cancer, surgery is the best treatment. The type of surgery depends on the type of cancer you have and where it is in your body. An operation may be done to:
- find out what type of cancer you have (a biopsy)
- see if the cancer has spread
- remove the cancer
- get rid of the symptoms of cancer, such as pain

Cancer Drugs/Medicines

All cancer medicines travel through your bloodstream and are carried throughout your body to the cancer cells. There are many different types of cancer medicines. Some of the most common are chemotherapy, hormone therapy and immunotherapy.

Chemotherapy uses medications to destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing. Many kinds of medications can be used in chemotherapy. Your treatment may involve using one medication or a combination of different medications.

Hormone therapy can be used to fight certain types of cancer (e.g. breast cancer, prostate cancer) which depend on hormones to grow. Hormones are proteins that are produced normally by our bodies. They guide and control many functions of the body such as growth and digestion.

Immunotherapy sometimes uses your own body's immune system to fight cancer cells by boosting your body's built-in natural defense system. Another type of immunotherapy involves giving antibodies that act against the cancer cells (antibody therapy).

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses ionizing or high-energy radiation. Radiation can be given both externally (delivered from outside the body) or internally (taken orally or injected into the body).

External radiation uses high penetrating X-rays produced by a special treatment machine. This treatment is planned very specifically to treat only the area of the body with cancer cells or where the cancer cells were removed. These specific beams will only damage and destroy cells in this area. The rest of the body will not be affected.

More information about radiation therapy and its effects is available through the BC Cancer Agency website.

Stem Cell Transplants

A stem cell transplant is often used to treat certain types of cancers (e.g. leukemia, lymphoma). There are two types of stem cell transplants. One involves very intense chemotherapy followed by a transplant of your own previously collected stem cells (autologous transplant). The second involves chemotherapy to get rid of diseased bone marrow and replacing it with healthy stem cells taken from another person (allogeneic transplant).

Combination of Treatments

You may receive just one of the above treatments or a combination of more than one type of treatment. Surgery, for example, may be followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Your doctor will give you more details about different treatments.

Complementary Therapies

Many people with cancer use complementary therapies to help them deal with the effects of the disease and treatment. Examples of complementary therapies include acupuncture/acupressure, aromatherapy, therapeutic touch, massage therapy, music therapy, relaxation/imagery and meditation.  It is your decision whether or not to use complementary therapies. It is important to inform your health care team about any therapies you are using.

More information about complementary therapies can be found in the Canadian Cancer Society booklet "Complementary Therapies - A guide for people with cancer".  Click here to download a copy of the booklet, or visit the Canadian Cancer Society website

Alternative Therapies

Alternative therapies are different from conventional medicines. Conventional medicines have been tested scientifically to show what benefit they have in the treatment of disease and are prescribed by a doctor. Alternative therapies have not been tested in the same way. Alternative therapies might include herbal remedies (e.g. St. John's Wort, shark cartilage, Essiac Tea, ginseng), high-dose vitamin and mineral supplementation, natural products (e.g. homeopathic preparations), and traditional medicines for other cultures (e.g. Chinese or Aboriginal medicines).

Not enough research has been done to show whether these therapies are effective. Some can be harmful.  It is very important to keep your doctor informed about any alternative therapies or treatments you intend to use. That way you can both watch for side effects or for problems that might result from mixing medicines and alternative therapies.

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