The modern treatment of cancer requires a multi-disciplinary approach, with different doctors and specialities involved in determining and providing optimal treatment for each patient. This may include systemic treatment (e.g. chemotherapy, hormonal therapies, and immunotherapy), radiotherapy, surgery, or combinations thereof.
For most cancers, surgery remains the mainstay of treatment. Sometimes no treatment may be required. When chemotherapy is required, it is usually administered as an out-patient treatment, or by means of medications taken at home. Occasionally treatment may be given in hospital, particularly for some of the haematological (blood) cancers, and with stem cell transplantation.
The term chemotherapy is used to indicate the treatment of cancer by means of medicines that directly or indirectly attack cancer cells. One of the first chemotherapy drugs, called aminopterin, was developed to block the effects of a vitamin called folate. Researchers found that folate made leukemia worse, and that folate deficiency made leukemia better.
Other chemotherapy drugs were originally obtained from many different sources in nature, such as plants, trees, crustaceans, fungi, bacteria, and even derived from vitamins. Today the active ingredients are synthetically derived and no longer extracted from nature. Many of the newer drugs are synthetic constructs not found in nature.
Modern treatment of cancer is not limited to traditional chemotherapy drugs, but also entails treatment with antibodies (immunotherapy), immune modulating drugs, vaccines, anti-hormonal treatments, and drugs that target specific pathways in cancer cells. We are becoming increasingly aware of the role of diet and lifestyle, not only in preventing cancer, but also of the role played in the management of cancer.
When chemotherapy is required, the four most common methods of administration are:
Treatment is administered at time intervals, and divided into treatment cycles. The time interval varies from daily to weekly, and cycle length from every two weeks to every 6 weeks, depending on the treatment regimen. The administration schedule and cycle length varies according to the type of treatment used. This will be discussed in detail by your oncologist and chemotherapy nurse.
Quackery is defined as the promotion of fraudulent or unskilled medical practice by lay people or medical doctors. Unfortunately, quackery is rife in oncology and patients are subjected to an ongoing onslaught to use unproven treatments and supplements. These treatments are often promoted as “natural” treatments, and as having no side effects, when in effect these treatments may have a detrimental effect on your health.
Even vitamins may interfere negatively with your treatment and may promote the growth of cancer (cancer cells require vitamins to function better, just as normal cells do). It is best to discuss the use of all other medications, supplements, or natural products with your oncologist before using them. A website focused on medical quackery, www.quackwatch.com , exposes many of the internationally promoted practices.