What’s the Difference Between Chemotherapy, Radiation Therapy, Immunotherapy?

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The goal of cancer treatment is to cure, shrink, or stop the progression of a cancer. Depending on the particular situation, patients may receive one treatment or a combination of treatments. There are many different types of cancer treatments, which will be described in this post.

Doctors often recommend chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer. Chemotherapy uses drugs that kill dividing cancer cells and prevent them from growing. It is considered a systemic treatment, because it affects cancer cells throughout the body, which includes potential metastasized growths. Many chemotherapy drugs have adverse effects, some of which may be severe. Doctors recommend chemotherapy after assessing the risk for side effects, when they believe that the specific patient will have significant benefits from it.   A person will often have chemotherapy as part of an overall treatment plan, which may also include surgery and radiation therapy. These treatments are effective in many cases of cancer. However, their effectiveness will often depend on the stage of the cancer as well as its type. Overall, it is calculated that about 50% of cancer patients will receive chemotherapy as part of their treatment at some point.

This leads to the next cancer treatment of radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses waves of energy, such as light or heat, to treat cancers and other tumors and conditions. Radiation inhibits tumor growth by destroying the genetic material responsible for cancer cell division, while at the same time having little effect on regular cells. Radiation therapy is a localized treatment, because the beams are targeted towards the affected region only. Doctors may recommend radiation for cancer at different stages. In the early stages, radiation therapy can help reduce the size of a tumor before surgery or kill remaining cancer cells afterward. In the later stages, it may help relieve pain as part of palliative care.

One of the more recent types of cancer treatment is immunotherapy, which utilizes our immune system to help us fight cancer cells. The immune system helps our bodies fight infections and other diseases. Drugs used in immunotherapy are boosting the ability of our immune system to detect cancer cells and have a stronger response against them. Examples include monoclonal antibodies, which bind onto cancer cells and mark them for destruction, as well as immune system modulators, that boost immune responses. Immunotherapy is also a systemic form of cancer treatment, and can provide a significant benefit in combination with other treatments.