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Things to Expect: Before, During & After Cancer Treatment

Before the Treatment

Staging

As the patient is diagnosed with cancer, the symptoms experienced by him/her and the size of the tumour will be evaluated to determine the stage of cancer, based on which the doctor will create a treatment plan.

Things patients should know about the disease and the treatment:

·         What is the type of cancer?

·         What is the location of cancer and has spread in a nearby organ(s)?

·         What are the effective treatment options available for the treatment?

·         What is the goal of the treatment?

·         How much time will the treatment take?

·         What are the side-effects of the condition?

·         What are the long-term outcomes of the disease and the treatment?

During the Treatment

Types of Cancer Treatment

There are multiple treatment options available for cancer. However, the treatment approach for treating each type of cancer can be different. The treatment for each patient might also vary based on the symptoms they are experiencing and how advanced cancer has become.

Some cancer patients are treated with one treatment, while others can require a combination of these treatments, including surgery, with radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Having so many options for treating a malignant disease like cancer can make the patients feel confused and overwhelmed. Patients should feel free to discuss their queries and learn about all of these treatments to get a hold of the situation.

Surgery

Surgery is the most prevalent method for removing malignant tumours from the body by directly making an incision in the targeted area and getting rid of the tumour from the body. Based on the infected part of the body, the surgical approach and surgeon will vary in the procedure. In most cases, patients are put under the following therapies before the surgery to prevent the cancerous cells from the spreading or multiplying in the body, and after the surgery to ensure that all abnormal cells are removed from the body.

Risk factors involved in surgical treatment:

  • Pain
  • Infection on the surgical site
  • Blood Loss
  • Swelling on the surgery site
  • Drainage on the surgery site

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses powerful doses of X-ray radiation on the cancerous area to shrink the malignant tumour and kill the cancer cells.

Low doses of X-ray radiation is used to produce images of patient bones or teeth. But higher doses of those radiations can be used for killing the cancer cells. It isn’t clear how cancer cells are destroyed because of radiation, but it is an effective way for killing these abnormal cells. However, this therapy doesn’t kill the abnormal cells right away. It takes a few weeks before the radiation damages the DNA of these cancerous cells to die. Radiation therapy is categorized into two parts:

•    Internal Therapy – puts the radiation source inside the patient’s body. This radiation source can be liquid or solid. It is often used in the treatment of breast, neck, head, prostate, eye, cervix and other few types of thyroid cancer.

•    External Therapy – is the type of Radiation therapy in which radiation is delivered outside the patient’s body. The machine producing the radiation does not come into contact with the patient, but it can send radiation to different parts of the patient’s body from different angles. 

Chemotherapy

In Chemotherapy, the cancer is treated using anti-cancer drugs that kill cancer cells inside the body. These medicines are given to the patients orally or using an IV. Chemotherapy medications stop or slow the growth and advancement of cancer cells, which prevent them from growing and dividing quickly. Chemotherapy is mainly used to:

•    Treat cancer

Chemotherapy cures cancer by reducing the chances of it returning, and stopping or slowing its growth.

•    Ease cancer symptoms

Chemotherapy helps in shrinking tumours relieving the symptoms that might be causing pain or other problems.

Chemotherapy Side-Effects

•    Chemo Brain – which affects the focus and concentration ability of the patient.

•    Loss of healthy blood cells – (the medicines used in chemotherapy can attack healthy cells while targeting the cancerous cells).

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is used for enhancing a patient’s immune system to help it in fighting cancer cells. The immune system is the body’s natural infection-fighting system. It consists of the lymph system’s tissues and organs, and the white blood cells. It is a biological therapy that uses substances which are made from living beings to treat cancer.

Types of Immunotherapy

•    Checkpoint Inhibitors –  are medications that boost the immune system’s ability to respond to the tumour more strongly.

•    Adoptive Cell Transfer – actively helps in enhancing the natural ability of T-Cells to fight off cancer aggressively.

•    Antibodies – aka therapeutic antibodies are artificial immune system proteins which are produced in the lab. They attach to the targeted cells, highlighting them, so they are easily identified and killed by the immune system.

•    Treatment Vaccines – also boost the immune system, that helps them respond to the infection more actively.

Immune System Enhancers

•    Cytokines – are proteins that are present the immune system of the body. They are responsible for balancing the function in the immune system and how it responds to different infections. Interferons and interleukins are the two type of cytokines used for treating cancer.

•    BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin) – is used for treating bladder cancer. It is the weakened form of tuberculosis bacteria. It is inserted inside the bladder using a catheter, attracting the attention of the immune system to respond aggressively to the cancer cells. 

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy targets and examine the variations in cancer cells, which help them grow, multiply, and spread. It is a revolutionized form of cancer precision medicine. There are two types of targeted therapies:

•    Small-Molecule Drugs – are used for targeting the inside cells, as the small size of the drugs allows them to enter the cells easily.

•    Monoclonal Antibodies – are medicines which can’t enter the cells easily. So, instead of going inside the abnormal cells and killing them, they surround them, increasing their visibility that helps the immune system in locating and attacking them.

Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy helps in slowing and stopping the growth of cancerous cells that feed through hormones like prostate and breast cancer. This therapy works using two broad groups, one that prevents the production of hormones and the second group that prevent abnormal cells from tampering with the behaviour of hormones.

It is used for the treatment of prostate cancer, is a condition where the patient is unable to use other treatments like surgery or radiotherapy.

Stem Cell Transplant

Stem cell transplant is a procedure in which the stem cells that are responsible for forming blood are restored into the cancer patients body by giving them powerful doses of chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Stem-Cells are responsible for the production of the blood in the body. A human body produces the following blood cells:

•    White Blood Cells – are present in the immune system, which helps the body fight off infection.

•    Red Blood Cells – helps in carrying oxygenated blood throughout the body.

•    Platelets – that are responsible for developing blood clots preventing bleeding.

The human requires all three type of blood cells in appropriate quantity in order to survive. 

In a stem cell transplant procedure, the patient receives blood-forming stem cells in his/her body through an IV in their vein. Once the healthy stem cells enter the patient’s bloodstream, they go to the bone marrow, and there they replace the damaged cells which were destroyed in the treatment. The stem cells used in transplants can be extracted from the bloodstream, bone marrow (donor), or umbilical cord. These transplants can be syngeneic, allogeneic or autologous.

This treatment alone cannot help in fighting cancer. Stem Cell transplant is done with chemotherapy or radiotherapy that help in fighting cancer while ensuring that the production of blood is enough to keep the patient alive. Stem Cell transplant is commonly used to treat leukaemia, bone marrow cancer, and bone marrow aplasia.

Precision Medicine

Precision medicine allows the doctors to determine the treatments that can help the patient based on getting a genetic understanding of the disease. It is the type of personalized medicine, designed for each patient based on their genetic map, to use a treatment that can provide a higher degree of success rate.

After years of research, doctors have found that genetic changes and DNA mutation play a vital role in spreading cancer. By understanding the initial cause of cancer, the cure becomes more easy to identify and apply.

Currently, precision medicine is given with other therapies, as the researches are still running on making this treatment method more effective.

Cons of Precision Medicine

Limited Resources – The technology involved in this therapy isn’t evolved enough to treat the abnormal cells individually. 

After the treatment

Cancer treatment is a mentally, physically, emotionally, and socially draining procedure that turns the patient’s life completely upside-down. Different treatment requires the patient’s to follow a different aftercare regime. However, some of these things remain common, as the patient’s mental and physical health becomes unstable during the treatment, that they find it difficult to go back to their life after their treatment.

Rehabilitation

•    Improve Physical Strength – Cancer, and cancer treatment can make the patient weak, making it hard for them to go back to their post disease routine. 

•    Adjust your actual, perceived or any other potential losses – This might include financial losses or emotional loss caused because of the disease.

•    Reduce Depression – The patient can join cancer support groups, where cancer patients and survivors come together and talk about their experience with the disease. This will help the patients in dodging down the overwhelming feeling they might get after recovering from the disease.

•    Professional Guidance – Patients can also seek help from psychiatrists or psychologist etc. for addressing their emotional and behavioural changes. They will help the patient by assisting them in understanding what they actually need.

Medmonks Tips

•    Quit Smoking

•    Avoid drinking alcohol

•    Stay away from toxic drugs

•    Exercise for 30 minutes every day

•    Maintain a regular diet

•    Go for a regular checkup to prevent cancer from recurring

Recovery after Cancer Treatment

The speed of recovery varies for different cancer treatments, while surgery in the initial stage can help in the instant removal of the malignant tumour, the patient might require months to recover after the surgery. The treatment procedure for cancer therapies might be stretched over a period of months, but the patient is able to get back to his/her usual routine in a matter of weeks.

References

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20370594
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4024849/
https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/surgery/what-cancer-surgery
https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/radiation-therapy

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