The treatment for cancer is usually designed by a team of doctors or by the patient's oncologist and is based on the type of cancer and the stage of the cancer. Most treatments are designed specifically for each individual. In some people, diagnosis and treatment may occur at the same time if the cancer is entirely surgically removed when the surgeon removes the tissue for biopsy.
Although patients may obtain a unique treatment protocol for their cancer, most treatments have one or more of the following components: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or combination treatments (a combination of two or all three treatments).
Individuals obtain variations of these treatments for cancer. Patients with cancers that cannot be cured (completely removed) by surgery usually will get combination therapy, the composition determined by the cancer type and stage.
Palliative therapy (medical care or treatment used to reduce disease symptoms but unable to cure the patient) utilizes the same treatments described above. It is done with the intent to extend and improve the quality of life of the terminally ill cancer patient. There are many other palliative treatments to reduce symptoms such as pain medications and antinausea medications.
What is the prognosis for cancer?
The prognosis (outcome) for cancer patients may range from excellent to poor. The prognosis is directly related to both the type and stage of the cancer. For example, many skin cancers can be completely cured by removing the skin cancer tissue; similarly, even a patient with a large tumor may be cured after surgery and other treatments like chemotherapy (note that a cure is often defined by many clinicians as a five-year period with no reoccurrence of the cancer). However, as the cancer type either is or becomes aggressive, with spread to lymph nodes or is metastatic to other organs, the prognosis decreases. For example, cancers that have higher numbers in their staging (for example, stage III or T3N2M1; see staging section above) have a worse prognosis than those with low (or 0) numbers. As the staging numbers increase, the prognosis worsens.
There are many complications that may occur with cancer; many are specific to the cancer type and stage and are too numerous to list here. However, some general complications that may occur with both cancer and its treatment protocols are listed below:
- Fatigue (both cancer and treatments)
- Anemia (both)
- Loss of appetite (both)
- Insomnia (both)
- Hair loss (treatments mainly)
- Nausea (both)
- Lymphedema (both)
- Pain (both)
- Immune system depression (both)