Is there a cancer vaccine?

Current Cancer Treatments

Cancer is a nearly invincible disease that has plagued humankind for centuries. Only in recent decades have doctors found effective ways to treat it. In that time we have also found better methods for early detection of this devastating disease. Despite great efforts to develop better treatments, more than 6 million people worldwide died from cancer in 1997. And we are still years away from any possible cure for cancer, something that many scientists think is impossible. While early detection is your best form of prevention, there are several techniques that are used to treat cancer. As you can read in our article on How Cancer Works, these techniques include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Immunotherapy

Surgery is the oldest and most widely used treatment available for cancer patients. About 60 percent of people diagnosed with cancer will undergo surgery, according to the American Cancer Society. If a growth is found early, doctors may opt to remove it before it has a chance to grow. Surgery is also used when there is a good chance to remove an entire tumor before it spreads. Surgery is rarely used as a stand-alone treatment. Usually, it is combined with radiation therapy and /or chemotherapy.

In radiation therapy, the specific part of the body containing a cancerous growth is exposed to radiation energy to attack reproducing cancer cells. However, the radiation cannot affect the cancer cells without affecting normal cells, which can lead to several unpleasant side effects, including fatigue, dryness and peeling of skin, nausea and vomiting. Radiation therapy is often used to shrink a tumor so that it can be removed through surgery, or to prevent tumor growth following surgery.

Chemotherapy, the treatment of cancer through drugs, is an effective treatment method for fighting cancerous cells that have spread to other parts of the body and that cannot be treated with any other method. There are dozens of cancer drugs that, in some cases, can cure the cancer, limit the spread of cancer and alleviate the symptoms of cancer. Similar to radiation therapy, chemotherapy also can affect normal cells, causing the same kinds of side effects.

Two more recent treatments for cancer are hormone therapy and immunotherapy. Hormone therapy involves anything that deals with manipulating the body's hormones to treat the cancer, including administering hormones and drugs. Doctors may also remove hormone glands to kill cancer cells or prevent further cancerous growth. Immunotherapy also manipulates the body's normal functions. During immunotherapy, patients are given medication to stimulate the body's immune system to fight cancerous cells.