Cancer Treatment

Cancer is treated in several ways, depending on each person's medical condition and type of cancer. Common treatments involve chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Other treatments include surgery and biological therapies.

For many people with cancer, treatment is a process that is designed to meet their needs. Doctors plan treatments based on several key factors, such as the type and stage of the cancer, as well as the person's age, health, and lifestyle.

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, it is important for you to know that you play an important role in the treatment process. Offering input, asking questions, and expressing your concerns about treatment can help make treatment a better experience.

Cancer treatment terms you should know

Combined modality therapy: A term used to describe when doctors choose more than one therapy in treating a patient, such as a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Adjuvant therapy: A term used to describe when doctors choose more than one therapy in treating a patient. However, the term adjuvant therapy is more specifically used to describe treatment given after the primary cancer treatment is completed to improve the chance of a cure. For example, if the doctor wants to treat cancer cells that may be present, he/she may prescribe one or more additional treatments.

Neoadjuvant therapy: A term used to describe when doctors choose to use more than one therapy in treating a patient. However, the term neoadjuvant therapy is more specifically used to describe cancer treatment given before the primary therapy—both to kill any cancer cells and contribute to the effectiveness of the primary therapy.

Preparing a patient for treatment

How can patients prepare for treatment?

As a patient, you play an important role in preparing for your cancer treatment. The following are some of the most important things to consider before treatment begins:

Find an oncologist and treatment center.

This step is important to everyone with cancer. Ask your general or primary care doctor for a referral to an oncologist. You can also contact government and professional medical organizations, such as your state's health department, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), or the American Medical Association (AMA) for information on cancer specialists and treatment centers in your area.

Get a second opinion.

It is common for people diagnosed with cancer to ask another cancer specialist for their opinion. A second opinion can help you to be sure your diagnosis and treatment plans are most appropriate for your individual medical history and profile. Asking for a second opinion also provides more information to consider when making choices about your treatment. Often, your oncologist can help you locate another cancer specialist for a second opinion.

Find out about your cancer treatment.

Your cancer care team will help you understand your treatment and answer questions. It also helps to learn about the type of cancer you have, as well as your treatment options. Ask your doctor where you can find more information about cancer. The Stanford Cancer Center contains information on many cancer topics. Also, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the American Cancer Society (ACS), and other cancer- and health-related organizations provide helpful information.

Find support when you need it.

Cancer treatment can be a long and tiring experience. Many people with cancer need help throughout the process. Finding help from others can make your experience more successful. Support groups for people with cancer are available in many communities. Managing your emotional health, your diet, and your finances are all things patients can do to reduce the stress involved in the treatment process. Oncology nurses and social workers are excellent resources for locating appropriate support groups.

Cancer treatment methods

Cancer is treated in several ways, depending on each person's medical condition and type of cancer. Common treatments involve chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Other treatments include surgery and biological therapies.

For many people with cancer, treatment is a process that is designed to meet their needs. Doctors plan treatments based on several key factors, such as the type and stage of the cancer, as well as the person's age, health, and lifestyle. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, it is important for you to know that you play an important role in the treatment process. Offering input, asking questions, and expressing your concerns about treatment can help make treatment a better experience.

There is a great deal of information to learn about the cancer treatment process, including various cancer treatment options—their goals and side effects.

Radiation therapy

The use of high-energy radiation to kill or shrink cancer cells, tumors, and non-cancerous diseases.

Chemotherapy

The use of anticancer drugs to shrink or kill cancerous cells and reduce cancer spreading to other parts of the body.

Hormone therapy

Use of supplemental hormones to prevent or stop the growth or spread of tumors. The type of hormone therapy you receive depends upon many factors, such as the type and size of the tumor, your age, the presence of hormone receptors on the tumor, and other factors.

Blood and bone marrow transplant

A specialized therapy to transfer healthy bone marrow cells into a patient after their own unhealthy bone marrow has been eliminated.

Biologic therapy

Treatment with substances that are made naturally in the body or that can block the growth of cancer cells. 

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy (also called biological therapy, biological response modifier therapy, or biotherapy) is designed to boost the body's immune system in order to fight cancer. The cells, antibodies, and organs of the immune system work to protect and defend the body against foreign invaders, such as bacteria or viruses. Doctors and researchers have found that the immune system might also be able to both determine the difference between healthy cells and cancer cells in the body, and to eliminate the cancer cells.

Angiogenesis inhibitors 

A substance that may prevent the formation of blood vessels. In anticancer therapy, an angiogenesis inhibitor may prevent the growth of new blood vessels that tumors need to grow.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that evaluate a new medical approach, device, drug, or other treatment. As a Stanford Health Care patient, you have access to the latest, advanced clinical trials.

Open trials refer to studies currently accepting participants. Closed trials are not currently enrolling, but may open in the future.

Before beginning treatment, ask your doctor about any clinical trials you should consider. Learn more about clinical trials for cancer patients.

Our Clinic

CANCER GENETICS PROGRAM

Expert care in a location convenient for you. Visit our clinic to make an appointment.