Treatments for Cancer – What is Involved?
Cancer can be a scary disease for most people, and as many as 115,000 South Africans are diagnosed with this illness each year. But treatments are more readily available and more advanced than ever before, and it’s important to be treated as soon as possible. The best way to know for sure is to pay your doctor a visit, to have all your concerns addressed.
Let’s take a look at some of the facts around cancer and some of the treatments, because when the disease is demystified, it is much easier to face it and deal with it.
What are the hard facts of cancer?
It is encouraging to know that 6 out of every 10 people who develop cancer will survive the disease. This is especially true if the illness is caught early. Men are slightly more at risk than women, with 1 in every 7 men who develop the disease, versus 1 in every 8 women. The most common types of cancer for men are prostate, colorectal, lung, Kaposi Sarcoma and cancer of unknown origin. For women, the most common types are breast, cervical, colorectal, uterine, and cancer of unknown origin.
Remember that risk increases if you have a history of cancer in your family, if you smoke, and if you come into contact with carcinogenic triggers such as repeated long-term exposure to the sun without protection.
Let’s now take a look at some of the treatments for cancer, why they are not as bad as you think they are, and why it is important to have them done. In some cases, your doctor or specialist may opt to give you more than one type of treatment.
This may be the first line of defence in the fight against cancer. In some cases, the best way to rid the body of cancer is simply to cut it out. For example, with breast cancer, it may be safest to remove one or both breasts (a mastectomy), which may or may not be followed by reconstructive surgery. Your doctor will advise you, or refer you to a specialist who can offer you an informed opinion.
‘Chemo’ derives its name from the word ‘chemical,’ and involves administering chemicals to the body to kill the cancer cells, which are cells that are no longer operating normally (they are malignant) and can affect healthy cells in their vicinity. This type of treatment may include pills or the use of an intravenous drip. Side effects include nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, and loss of hair, but these are all temporary, and the benefit is that your body can start to recover.
Radiation and nuclear medicine
Like chemotherapy, radiation also destroys cancerous cells, but using a type of wave particle. Similar to an x-ray but much stronger, the radiation penetrates the cell structure and destroys it. Side effects also include nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, and loss of hair. As with chemo, the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term discomfort.
Hormones can be given to a patient to block the hormones that are causing the cancer. Cancer can manifest itself in areas where the body is constantly dividing and renewing cells, such as the reproductive systems of both women and men. This is why both prostate cancer in men and uterine cancer in women are in the list of top 5 cancers developed by either gender.
In a nutshell, this involves triggering an immune response to get your body’s natural defence system to fight the cancer for you. The treatment gets your immune system to recognise the cancer cells and then start to defend your body by destroying them. Types include the use of cytokines, vaccines and antibodies.
Medicine is constantly evolving and developing, so new types of treatment are being discovered and implemented. Some of the less-known therapies include bone marrow transplant, stem cell research, biological response modifier therapy, targeted drug therapy, cryoablation and radiofrequency ablation (using extreme cold or heat to kill cancer cells), clinical trials, and precision medicine.
In each case, there will be side effects, which are unavoidable. Life is never devoid of challenges, and as the sentiment goes, such trials often make us stronger and teach us to appreciate life and the blessings that we have.
If you have cancer, you may be feeling guilty or depressed, as if it’s somehow your fault, and that you brought this on yourself. That is not the case. Some people who have the same genes, background or exposure as others will not develop the disease, while others will. The most important thing is a positive attitude, a lust for life, surrounding yourself with loved ones, and getting treatment as quickly as possible. Have a heart-to-heart with your doctor about your specific situation.
For more information please contact:
Dr JP Naicker
MBBCh (WITS), FCP(SA), Cert Med Onc
Zamokuhle Private Hospital
Tel: +27 11 923 7776
Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.