Treatments and drugsBy Mayo Clinic staff
Many cancer treatments are available. Your treatment options will depend on several factors, such as the type and stage of your cancer, your general health and your preferences. Together you and your doctor can weigh the benefits and risks of each cancer treatment to determine which is best for you.
Goals of cancer treatment
Cancer treatments are used in various ways, such as:
- Treatment to kill or remove cancer cells (primary treatment). The goal of a primary treatment is to completely remove the cancer from your body or kill the cancer cells. Any cancer treatment can be used as a primary treatment, but the most common primary cancer treatment for the most common cancers is surgery. If your cancer is particularly sensitive to radiation therapy or chemotherapy, you may receive one of those therapies as your primary treatment.
- Treatment to kill any remaining cancer cells (adjuvant therapy). The goal of adjuvant therapy is to kill any cancer cells that may remain after primary treatment. Any cancer treatment can be used as an adjuvant therapy. Common adjuvant therapies include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy.
- Treatment to manage side effects of cancer and its treatment (palliative care). The goal of palliative care is to decrease pain or other symptoms and help you maintain quality of life during and after cancer treatment. Palliative treatments may help relieve side effects of treatment or signs and symptoms caused by cancer itself.
Doctors have many tools when it comes to treating cancer. Cancer treatment options include:
- Surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove the cancer or as much of the cancer as possible.
- Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. Radiation treatment can come from a machine outside your body (external beam radiation) or it can be placed inside your body (brachytherapy).
- Stem cell transplant. Stem cell transplant is also known as bone marrow transplant. Your bone marrow is the material inside your bones that makes blood cells from blood stem cells. A stem cell transplant can use your own stem cells or stem cells from a donor.
- Biological therapy. Biological therapy uses your body's immune system to fight cancer. Cancer can survive unchecked in your body because your immune system doesn't recognize it as an intruder. Biological therapy can help your immune system "see" the cancer and attack it.
- Hormone therapy. Some types of cancer are fueled by your body's hormones. Examples include breast cancer and prostate cancer. Removing those hormones from the body or blocking their effects may cause the cancer cells to stop growing.
- Targeted drug therapy. Targeted drug treatment focuses on specific abnormalities within cancer cells that allow them to survive.
- Clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies to investigate new ways of treating cancer. Thousands of cancer clinical trials are under way.
Other treatments may be available to you, depending on your type of cancer.
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