Cancer treatments

How is cancer treated?

Your treatment will depend on the type of cancer you have, where it began and whether it has spread to other parts of your body. It will also depend on your general health and the type of treatment you choose.

Most cancers are treated by surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy (drug treatment). Often more than one of these treatments is used. Other treatments that can work with some cancers are immunotherapy and hormone therapy.

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What is radiotherapy?

Radiation therapy is a form of treatment that can control the growth of many types of cancers. Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill or injure cancer cells so they cannot keep growing. Radiation therapy may be used before surgery (preoperative radiation therapy), or after surgery (postoperative radiation therapy) to destroy cancer cells that cannot be removed surgically. In some cases, radiation therapy is used in combination with chemotherapy to treat the cancer.

The aim of radiation therapy can be:

  • To cure - many cancers can be completely cured by radiation therapy on its own or when combined with other treatments.
  • As a temporary control - when it is not possible to cure a cancer, radiation therapy may be used to keep the cancer under control for some time by making it smaller or stopping it from spreading.
  • For symptom relief - radiation therapy is often able to relieve distressing cancer symptoms such as pain so you feel as well as possible.
  • As adjuvant therapy - when radiation therapy is used with another treatment, such as surgery, to improve the chances of cure, it is called adjuvant radiation therapy.

For more information on radiation therapy download Understanding Radiotherapy booklet from our Publications page.

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What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancer. It works by destroying or slowing the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy mainly affects fast-growing cells, like cancer cells. There are many different types of chemotherapy drugs. Usually, people have several chemotherpay drugs at the same time but sometimes people have only one drug. Your oncologist will discuss your treatment options with you.

You may like to read more information about chemotherapy. It is sometimes worrying to read about the possible side effects of chemotherapy. The Understanding Chemotherapy booklet provides explanations that may be helpful and dispel some of your concerns and fears. This booklet explains the use of chemotherapy, how it is given, the possible side effects and how to manage them, special issues, diet and supportive care. It is a 72 page booklet designed as a guide for people with cancer, their family and friends. It can be downloaded from our Publications page.

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What other type of treatments are there?

Hormone therapy reduces the hormones that cause some cancer cells to grow.
Immunotherapy helps the body's immune system to fight cancer cells.
Adjuvant therapy is when a treatment is used to assist your main treatment and is used in addition to the main treatment.

People often have more than one type of treatment, one after the other or together. This is called multi-modality treatment. Many cancers can be cured using these treatments, either alone or in combination. When a cure is unlikely, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or other treatments can relieve symptoms and help you feel as well as possible often for long periods of time. It is important to talk with your oncologist, doctor or nurse about any concerns you have before, during and after treatment.

You may like to see the complete list of booklets on cancer treatments produced by the Cancer Council WA.

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