The worst words anyone can hear is the confirmation that they have a potentially life-threatening disease, especially when that disease is cancer. This is because the stats surrounding cancer are glaringly stark; one in six deaths worldwide are attributed to cancer, making it the second leading cause of death in the world. In 2018, 9.6 million people died of the disease, with lung cancer and colorectal cancer causing the most deaths.
So many people die of cancer because their cases are detected too late, by which point treatment is offered mainly to keep the patient comfortable rather than by way of extending their life. Despite the statistics, cancer can and often is successfully treated when it is caught early enough. So much money goes into cancer research globally, and from such investments, new treatments are continually being brought to the forefront and offered through clinical trials. There is a wide array of cancer treatments that a patient might be offered as standard – outside of trials – but what’s the most effective?
Generally speaking, there is no clear answer to that question because how successful a treatment is will depend on a range of factors, including the type of cancer, how early it’s detected and how aggressive it is. With this is mind, there a range of encouraging options available to patients around the world, many of which are offered as standard.
When people think ‘cancer treatment’, they usually think of chemotherapy. Known for its unpleasant side effects, chemotherapy can be one of the most difficult cancer treatments a person may undergo, but it can also be one of the most effective when used in conjunction with other treatments.
Chemotherapy is rarely used alone and is typically used alongside radiotherapy or before surgery, but it depends on the person and their cancer. Chemotherapy is often used in some capacity to treat:
- Breast cancer
- Lung cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Testicular cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Uterine cancer
The aim of chemotherapy is to stop cancer cells from growing and/or reproducing. It can be administered through an IV line or through the use of oral tablets depending on the case at hand. Typically, provided the cancer is caught early, chemotherapy can be a highly effective treatment.
Like chemotherapy, radiotherapy is often used in conjunction with other treatments – usually surgery for which is it considered the most effective form of combined treatment. It’s thought that 40% of all cases of cured cancer feature radiotherapy, making it one of the most promising types of cancer treatment.
Like chemotherapy, radiotherapy can have a number of unpleasant side effects, including nausea, hair loss and fatigue. It is mostly used to treat hard-to-reach cancers in the head, neck, eye, chest, back and reproductive areas.
Radiotherapy is a promising form of cancer treatment, but it can increase the risk of a second form of cancer which needs to be taken into account before treatment commences. The risk is typically low, but it does need to be considered. That being said, radiotherapy as a curative treatment is highly effective and so is commonly used on people of all ages and with different forms of cancer.
In cases where a tumor is easy to reach and cancer cells haven’t spread, surgery can provide a cure, but this is entirely dependent on personal situations. Sometimes, localized cancer tumors in easy-to-reach areas may be treated with just surgery, but surgery is more often than not used in conjunction with other treatments like radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
This is because cancer is rarely neat and can appear next to vital organs, blood vessels or in a particularly sensitive part of the body. In this case, radiotherapy or chemotherapy is used to shrink the tumor as much as possible, and surgery is then undertaken, though it may not be successful if all of the tumor cannot be removed or if the cancer has spread further than was anticipated.
Despite this, early-stage cancers are often successfully treated with surgery.
A cancer diagnosis is devastating and life-changing, but it doesn’t automatically mean that your life is going to be cut short. Your doctors will do all they can to find the treatment that offers you the best chance of survival and comfort, so no matter what they pick for you, rest assured they’ve chosen it for medical reasons.