Patient Empowerment is an Important Part of Cancer Treatment
If you have recently been diagnosed with cancer, you’re probably talking with your doctor about your treatment options. It can be confusing and overwhelming, but with the right information and the support of your healthcare team, we hope you’ll feel empowered to make the best decision for you. And remember, while healthcare providers are experts about the benefits and risks of different treatment options, YOU are the expert about you. So, it’s best to make decisions TOGETHER with your healthcare team. The best cancer treatment for you depends on:
- The kind of cancer you have.
- How far the cancer has spread in your body (this is called the stage).
- What biomarkers your cancer may have. Each person’s cancer has a unique pattern of biomarkers that can help determine if certain treatments are likely to work or not.
- Your age and any other health problems you may have.
- Your preferences, beliefs, and values should also be taken into consideration.
Cancer treatment is based on the stage of the cancer. Sometimes, treatment is meant to cure the cancer. Other times, the goal is to stop the cancer from spreading further. Some treatments may be given to reduce side effects of other treatments and make you more comfortable. This is called palliative care. You may be given a combination of different treatments. Your treatment plan may change over time.
Common Types of Cancer Treatment
- Surgery: An operation where doctors cut out tissue with cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: Special medicines that shrink or kill cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy: Using high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill cancer cells.
- Hormone therapy: Blocks cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow.
- Immunotherapy: A treatment that works with your body’s immune system to help it kill cancer cells or to control side effects from other cancer treatments.
- Targeted therapy. Using drugs to block the growth and spread of cancer cells. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines injected in your veins. You will get biomarker tests to see if targeted therapy is right for your cancer type before this treatment is used.
- Stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplant): Replace bone marrow cells lost due to very high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Most commonly used to treat blood cancers
If you have cancer, you may want to join a clinical trial. Clinical trials are research studies involving people that help doctors determine whether new treatments are safe and effective and if they work better than current treatments. Clinical trials are very important. They help doctors learn about cancer and develop better treatments that can help you and other people in the future. Ask your doctor or visit the National Cancer Institute’s Steps to Find a Clinical Trial to learn more about clinical trials that may be right for you.
Biomarker testing is a way to look for genes, proteins, and other substances (called biomarkers or tumor markers) that can provide information about cancer. Each person’s cancer has a unique patter of biomarkers. Some biomarkers affect whether or not certain cancer treatments are likely to work.
Biomarker testing is important as it can help you and your doctor choose a cancer treatment for you. Some cancer treatments, including targeted therapies and immunotherapies, may only work for people whose cancers have certain biomarkers. Biomarker testing could also help you find a clinical trial that you may be able to join. Ask your doctor or visit the National Cancer Institute’s Biomarker Testing For Cancer Treatment.
Making a Treatment Decision
Choosing the treatment that is right for you may be hard. Talk to your cancer doctor about the treatments for your kind and stage of cancer. Your doctor can explain the risks and benefits of each treatment, and their side effects. And you can share what is most important to you regarding your cancer treatment. Together, you can make an informed decision.