The General Treatment Strategies For Cancer

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  • 0:08 The Benefit of Having Options
  • 0:55 Treating With Surgery
  • 3:24 Treating With Radiation
  • 4:51 Treating With Chemotherapy
  • 6:07 Other Methods of Treatment
  • 7:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will describe the three traditional methods of treating cancer. These include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy as well as their potential uses, benefits, and side-effects. We'll also touch on other ways by which we can treat cancer.

The Benefit of Having Options

It's nice to have options in our lives. You can go with an iPhone or an Android phone. Maybe you like Macs more than PCs. Perhaps you prefer Costco to Sam's Club. Or maybe you don't like big chains and prefer your local organic grocer. Or better yet, Costco or Sam's Club may be better for your shopping needs during certain times or for certain things, while your local grocer is better at other times.

Options are really great precisely because we can customize our experience to fit our individual needs. Luckily, options exist when it comes down to treating cancer as well. This lesson will point out the major options for the treatment of cancer and when it is that their use is most appropriate.

Treating Cancer with Surgery

One of the options for treating malignant or benign tumors is by way of surgery. As a general rule, it's best to avoid surgery if you have another viable option. But in some cases, surgery is the best option or maybe the only one!

Surgery can sometimes cure you of or even prevent the onset of cancer. Here's what I mean. Let's say you have a benign tumor, one that isn't as dangerous as cancer, which is a malignant tumor. The problem is that some benign tumors can, over time, transform into malignant tumors that can kill you!

It's like having a really good friend of yours all of a sudden getting angry with you over something and transforming from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. That's what can happen with a benign tumor when they transform into a malignant tumor.

If, however, you get rid of your friend before they turn into Mr. Hyde, then they will not be able to hurt you. Therefore, if you remove this benign tumor, then it cannot transform into a malignant one, and you won't get hurt as a result.

Further still, malignant tumors themselves can be removed by surgical means as well. There's actually more than one reason for this. The obvious one is that you just want to get rid of it. However, other reasons for removing a malignant tumor include:

  • To prevent or mitigate its spread
  • To avoid having it compress or harm a vital structure such as a gland or blood vessel
  • To relieve an obstruction of an organ
  • To relieve pain

The problem with surgery is that if the cancer has spread all over the body, surgery alone will not cure someone of cancer. It's too late for surgery alone to do something like that.

In cases where cancer has spread all over the body, surgery is kind of like using a bucket to put out a forest fire. Yes, the bucket will put out a piece of the fire in one location, but that's it. You'll need a lot more stuff like professional firemen, helicopters, and airplanes to help you put out the entire forest fire.

So, even though alone it won't do much, surgery may still be one component of an overall treatment plan for cancer that has spread throughout the body, or metastasized, in order to help the person live their life a little bit easier or less painfully.

Treating Cancer with Radiation Therapy

In a very similar fashion, radiotherapy may be utilized in treating cancer. Radiotherapy, or radiation therapy, is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells or to control their spread or growth.

Like surgery, radiation therapy alone is not something you would use to treat tumors that have metastasized. One reason for this is because radiotherapy has quite a few side effects and so we try to minimize the amount of it that we use.

These side-effects range from vomiting and burns to even secondary cancer. The reason this latter point, a secondary cancer, may occur is because the radiation therapy that's used to kill the bad cells may also harm the DNA, or genome, of the good cells in your body. This damage to the DNA may result, in the long run, in secondary cancer formation in some cases.

I liken this damage of DNA to acid rain damaging the paint on someone's car. One little particle of rain, one little drop, can burn through the paint and cause it to change its color or even peel off entirely. The particle of acid water transforms the paint into something different and nasty looking. The particles of radiation that are used to treat cancer are like those particles of acid rain. They fall onto your cellular DNA and transform it into something different and nasty that eventually may give rise to cancer.

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