GENERAL TREATMENT OF CANCER
The traditional treatment for primary tumors that have not metastasized to other locations in the body has been surgical excision of the tumor, followed by chemotherapy or radiation therapy (radiotherapy). Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to kill cancer cells while radiotherapy uses ionizing radiation. However, where a tumor has been diagnosed in an advanced state with metastases in other parts of the body, palliative care only may be given, to ease pain and discomfort.
‘Staging’ of the cancer is essential as it determines the treatment that the patient receives. Staging of a cancer involves looking at the extent of the cancer within the body. Though staging varies between different types of tumor, a simple system classifies the tumor into one of four stages as shown in Table 17.6. Other staging systems include the TNM classification, where T records how far the primary tumor has grown in its original location, N defines whether the tumor has spread to local lymph nodes and M describes whether the tumor has metastasized.
The aims of chemotherapy and radiotherapy are to stop the cancer cells from dividing. Other treatments which have been attempted, with varying success include immunotherapy, where the objective is to stimulate the body’s immune system to eliminate the cancer, as well as a number of ‘alternative’ therapies all of which are controversial.