Standard therapies for treating cancer include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, depending on the part of the body affected and stage at which the cancer is diagnosed. Solid tumors respond well to surgery if they are contained or localized. Non-solid cancer, such as leukemia, requires radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of both treatments.
Surgery either removes the tumor completely or debulks a cancerous tumor by partially removing the tumor. Debulking is indicated if the excision of the whole tumor may damage surrounding organs. In addition, debulking can improve the beneficial effects of other standard treatments by minimizing the amount of cancer requiring treatment.
Radiation Therapy as Standard Treatment for Cancer
External beam radiation and internal radiation therapy are the two main radiation therapies used to treat all stages of cancer. A machine provides external beam radiation, which targets specific areas of the body. Internal radiation therapy is liquid or solid and consists of brachytherapy or liquid radiation delivered via intravenous line. Brachytherapy involves insertion of capsules, seeds or ribbons near or in cancerous regions of the body.
Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs (chemotherapeutic agents) to cure or control cancer or as a component of palliative care for patients with incurable cancer. Rituximab, Bevacizumab and Trastuzumab are a few of the many chemotherapeutic agents used to eliminate cancer, prolong the life of a cancer patient or ease end-of-life cancer symptoms. According to the Cancer.gov website, over 200 anti-cancer drugs have been approved for use in the U.S.
Standard Therapies in Cancer Clinical Trials
People participating in randomized cancer clinical trials will receive new treatments or standard cancer treatments. Radiation or chemotherapy is typically used in clinical trials testing the efficacy of a new cancer drug, device or procedure. By comparing a standard therapy to an experimental therapy, researchers can determine whether the experimental therapy provides statistically significant benefits compared to the benefits of a standard therapy.
The Future of Standard Cancer Therapies
Since the 1980s, standard cancer treatment has involved cytotoxic agents and radiation therapy. Anticancer drugs remained the mainstay of treatment protocol but suffered from limitations imposed by toxicities, a restricted therapeutic index and development of acquired resistance. In recent years, a better understanding of cancer pathogenesis supported by rapid advances in molecular and genetic research has promoted the evolution of cancer immunotherapy and targeted agents. While immunotherapy stimulates an immune response for initiating long-term tumor eradication, targeted approaches impede molecular pathways essential for tumor enlargement. However, since cytotoxic agents and targeted cancer therapies contribute to modulating immune responses, the possibility exists that these treatment techniques could be combined to create an effective type of immunotherapy to enhance general clinical results.
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