42TAB THREE | UNDERSTANDING CANCER patient guide
The treatment plan depends mainly on the type of cancer and the stage of the disease.
Doctors also consider the patient’s age and general health. Often, the goal of treatment is to cure the cancer. In other
cases, the goal is to control the disease or to reduce symptoms for as long as possible. The treatment plan may change
over time. Most treatment plans include surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. Some involve hormone therapy
or biological therapy. In addition, stem cell transplantation may be used so that a patient can receive very high doses of
chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Some cancers respond best to a single type of treatment. Others may respond best to a combination of treatments.
Treatments may work in a speciﬁc area (local therapy) or throughout the body (systemic therapy):
Local therapy removes or destroys cancer in just one part of the body. Surgery to remove a tumor is local therapy.
Radiation to shrink or destroy a tumor also is usually local therapy.
Systemic therapy sends drugs or substances through the bloodstream to destroy cancer cells all over the body. It kills or
slows the growth of cancer cells that may have spread beyond the original tumor. Chemotherapy, hormone therapy and
biological therapy are usually systemic therapy.
Your doctor can describe your treatment choices and the expected results. You and your doctor can work together to
decide on a treatment plan that is best for you.
Because cancer treatments often damage healthy cells and tissues, side effects are common. Side effects depend mainly
on the type and extent of the treatment. Side effects may not be the same for each person, and they may change from
one treatment session to the next.
Before treatment starts, the health care team will explain possible side effects and suggest ways to help you manage
them. This team may include nurses, a dietitian, a physical therapist and others. The NCI provides booklets about cancer
treatments and coping with side effects. These include Radiation Therapy and You, Chemotherapy and You, Biological
Therapy, and Eating Hints for Cancer Patients.
At any stage of cancer, supportive care is available to relieve the side effects of therapy, to control pain and other
symptoms, and to ease emotional and practical problems.
Information about supportive care is available on NCI’s Web site at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping and from
Information Specialists at 1–800–4–CANCER.
You may want to talk to the doctor about taking part in a clinical trial (a research study of new treatment methods). The
section on “Clinical Trials” under Tab 3 can provide you with more information.
In most cases, the surgeon removes the tumor and some tissue around it. Removing nearby tissue may help prevent the
tumor from growing back. The surgeon may also remove some nearby lymph nodes.