Many treatment options for cancer exist with the primary ones including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and palliative care. Which treatments are used depends upon the type, location and grade of the cancer as well as the person's health and wishes.
Palliative care refers to treatment which attempts to make the patient feel better and may or may not be combined with an attempt to attack the cancer. Palliative care includes action to reduce the physical, emotional, spiritual, and psycho-social distress experienced by people with cancer. Unlike treatment that is aimed at directly killing cancer cells, the primary goal of palliative care is to improve the patient's quality of life.
Patients at all stages of cancer treatment need some kind of palliative care to comfort them. In some cases, medical specialty professional organisations recommend that patients and physicians respond to cancer only with palliative care and not with cancer-directed therapy.
Palliative care is often confused with hospice and therefore only involved when people approach end of life. Like hospice care, palliative care attempts to help the person cope with the immediate needs and to increase the person's comfort. Unlike hospice care, palliative care does not require people to stop treatment aimed at prolonging their lives or curing the cancer.
Surgery is the primary method of treatment of most isolated solid cancers and may play a role in palliation and prolongation of survival. It is typically an important part of making the definitive diagnosis and staging the tumor as biopsies are usually required. In localized cancer surgery typically attempts to remove the entire mass along with, in certain cases, the lymph nodes in the area. For some types of cancer this is all that is needed to eliminate the cancer.
Chemotherapy in addition to surgery has proven useful in a number of different cancer types including: breast cancer, colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, osteogenic sarcoma, testicular cancer, ovarian cancer, and certain lung cancers. The effectiveness of chemotherapy is often limited by toxicity to other tissues in the body.
Radiation therapy involves the use of ionizing radiation in an attempt to either cure or improve the symptoms of cancer. It is used in about half of all cases and the radiation can be from either internal sources in the form of brachytherapy or external sources. Radiation is typically used in addition to surgery and or chemotherapy but for certain types of cancer such as early head and neck cancer may be used alone. For painful bone metastasis it has been found to be effective in about 70% of people.
Complementary and alternative cancer treatments are a diverse group of health care systems, practices, and products that are not part of conventional medicine. "Complementary medicine" refers to methods and substances used along with conventional medicine, while "alternative medicine" refers to compounds used instead of conventional medicine. Most complementary and alternative medicines for cancer have not been rigorously studied or tested. Some alternative treatments have been investigated and shown to be ineffective but still continue to be marketed and promoted.