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Treatments, Therapies, & Recovery

What treatment options and therapies are available for cancer?

There is no single cancer treatment that works for every type of cancer, but a range of cancer treatments can be effective. 

The main ways to treat cancer are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.  These options are often combined in order to fight the cancer as aggressively as possible.  The appropriate treatment option is suggested based on the type of cancer present, the location of the cancer and the stage of the disease. 

Some cancer treatments are designed to keep it in remission for as long as possible.  Some treatments might stop the cancer from spreading. Other treatments won't treat the cancer directly, but will help you feel more comfortable.


Cancer surgery is intended to remove malignant tumors (tumors full of cancer cells) from your body.  Surgery is most commonly used before the cancer has spread from one part of the body to another.  When the cancer has spread, surgery is more complex, and it's much harder to be sure that all the cancer has been completely removed.

Surgery is a common treatment for skin cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.

Sometimes, it's impossible to entirely remove a cancerous tumor, because trying to remove it all might lead to damaging other important parts of your body.  In these cases, doctors try to remove as much of the tumor as they can, and they'll try to get rid of the rest by using other treatments.

Just like with biopsies, when you undergo surgery for cancer, you may receive local or general anesthesia to help reduce the pain of the surgery.


When you undergo chemotherapy, commonly known as "chemo," you'll take special cancer-killing medications to help shrink or eliminate your cancer, or to help relieve the symptoms of cancer.

Chemotherapy drugs can be given as pills, as shots, or intravenously, which means directly into your blood vessels through a tube called a catheter.

Since the chemotherapy drugs are so powerful, you might experience some strong side effects when you're receiving chemotherapy.  These include exhaustion, hair loss, nausea, and a weakened immune system that makes you more likely to become sick.


In radiation therapy, high doses of radiation are used to try to kill the cancer.  Radiation is a type of highly concentrated energy—in fact, it's so powerful that it's usually very dangerous.  It can be effective when it is used in a carefully controlled situation to focus on eliminating particular cancer cells because it’s highly focused energy is good at killing fast-growing cells like cancer cells. 

Typically, radiation treatments take about 15 minutes once or twice each day over a period of many days or weeks.11

There are different ways that radiation is delivered into your body to fight cancer cells. These ways are all designed to kill cancer in the most efficient and focused manner as possible. Negative side effects associated with radiation might occur as well.  These side effects include fatigue, hair loss, and sore, dry, or red skin.  Depending on where the radiation treatment is focused, you may experience side effects in other parts of your body too.  All these side effects result from the highly focused energy of radiation.  While it destroys the cancer cells, it also might damage normal cells.

Palliative Care

Palliative care is treatment that helps you deal with the symptoms of cancer but doesn't treat the cancer.  It can take place from diagnosis all the way through end of life care.  Palliative care can be given with cancer treatment but if the cancer has spread or has failed to be eliminated by all the possible treatments then it will become the total focus of care.

The goal in palliative care is to improve quality of life and to make you feel as comfortable as possible.   Specialists will focus on pain management and mental healthcare.  They can help make you much more comfortable, particularly if you're deal with late-stage cancer.  They can help you live at home, spend more time with loved ones, receive spiritual and psychology care, and receive the pain medicine that is appropriate for you.

What should I do after I've been treated for cancer?

Most cancer treatments can be physically and mentally exhausting, and may lead to various side effects. After receiving treatment, you'll need some time to rest and recover.

Depending on the type of cancer you were treated for, you will likely need to be screened on a regular basis to ensure that the cancer has not returned.