A number of factors determine what constitutes an effective cancer therapy. The type (benign and malignant) and organ involved are some of the determinant factors.
An ideal cancer therapy would involve killing or removing cancer cells while leaving normally growing cells intact. When the tumor is accessible, like in small superficial skin tumors, removal is possible. In less accessible cases, however, a combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be necessary. New and experimental techniques also promise alternatives for safer and more effective cancer therapy. These are gene therapy, bone marrow and stem cell transplants, protease inhibitors and anti angiogenesis drugs. Telomerase inhibitors targeting cell division process and biological therapies enhancing immune system’s response are also being explored.
Surgery and Chemotherapeutic Treatment Approaches
Partial or full excision of the cancerous organ could be the ideal treatment in some cancers. When such removal does not preclude life such as in breast or testicle cases, excision at times provides a lasting cure. Tumors that have metastasized – moved from their original occupancy – are however hard to cure via surgery. Similarly cancers of body systems such as the immune and blood systems may be hard to cure via surgery since their cells are widely distributed throughout the body. In these latter cases, treatment approaches involve a combination of surgery and other techniques.
Chemotherapy provides an alternative treatment approach for cancers that cannot be managed through surgery. The use of drugs to destroy rapidly growing cancer cells but not normally dividing cells is the basic principle via which chemotherapeutic agents work .According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute (2008), chemotherapeutic agents interfere with DNA synthesis and replication in the rapidly dividing cells. Cells not rapidly dividing are not destroyed and thus the selectivity for cancerous cells.
Induction chemotherapy is one approach where chemotherapy and surgery are combined for cancer treatment. By use of chemotherapeutic drugs prior to surgery existing metastases are killed or tumor shrank to make it more accessible for subsequent excision. This approach is however also subject to side effects noted with use of chemotherapeutic agents. Since the basis for selectivity of chemotherapeutic agents is rapidly growing cells, unpleasant effects such as hair loss and diarrhea could result from their action on rapidly growing normal cells.
Radiation Therapy and Preventative Approaches
Cancer radiation therapy uses a beam of X-rays or gamma rays to kill tumor cells. The tumor cells and any other cell (even normal) in contact with the rays are killed. The procedure may be via surgical implantation of radioactive seeds into cancerous organ or alternative techniques that precisely target tumor cells. The ability to precisely target cancerous cells makes radiotherapy less toxic to the patient. According to a study of high risk prostate cancer, acute toxicity, however, could arise in conventional radiotherapy varying in accordance to age, prior surgery history and degree of exposure to irradiation.
Preventative approaches that boarder on nutrition, lifestyle change and exercises may shield against development and progression of cancer. Such approaches are determined by risk factors prevalent in the community. Prevention may for example entail a stringent dietary regimen to keep at bay cancer onset from food containing carcinogenic substances. Further physical exercises help minimize associated risk factors such as obesity and overweight. Continued development of cancer therapies is however important because many risk factors are beyond individual control.