CANCER TREATMENTS

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Description

Cancer can be treated by surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, and targeted therapy (including immunotherapy such as monoclonal antibody therapy). The choice of therapy depends upon the location and grade of the tumor and the stage of the disease, as well as the general state of the patient (performance status). A number of experimental cancer treatments are also under development.

Complete removal of the cancer without damage to the rest of the body (that is, achieving cure with near-zero adverse effects) is the ideal goal of treatment and is often the goal in practice. Sometimes this can be accomplished by surgery, but the propensity of cancers to invade adjacent tissue or to spread to distant sites by microscopic metastasis often limits its effectiveness; and chemotherapy and radiotherapy can have a negative effect on normal cells. Therefore, cure with nonnegligible adverse effects may be accepted as a practical goal in some cases; and besides curative intent, practical goals of therapy can also include (1) suppressing the cancer to a subclinical state and maintaining that state for years of good quality of life (that is, treating the cancer as a chronic disease), and (2) palliative care without curative intent (for advanced-stage metastatic cancers).

Because “cancer” refers to a class of diseases, it is unlikely that there will ever be a single “cure for cancer” any more than there will be a single treatment for all infectious diseases. Angiogenesis inhibitors were once thought to have potential as a “silver bullet” treatment applicable to many types of cancer, but this has not been the case in practice.