Cancer

One of the leading causes of death in America and World-Wide today is cancer. While this disease was once a very mysterious occurrence, today there is a deep scientific understanding of the functionality of cancer cells and growth. There are many specialized scientific procedures and medications that take details regarding the nature of cancer cells into account, from attacking their ability to reproduce, to convincing them to return to a normal state, or even combatting them with cell transplants. Radiation, cytoplasmic drugs, refined surgical techniques, gene therapy, and even viral attacks on the cancerous cells themselves are regular treatment options. However, there may be answers to solving the cancer dilemma question that lay outside of modern, traditional medicine. "There are many alternative cancer therapies that can be valuable assets in cancer treatment." (Quillin) Alternative therapies may be more effective, less invasive, less expensive, and have fewer side-effects than normal medicinal therapies. All cancer treatment options should be carefully considered by the patient and his or her family.

One of the main treatments for cancer is surgery. (Cancerhelp) Surgery is a local treatment, not a treatment that affects the entire body, which means that it is not an option if the cancer has spread to multiple parts of the body or to cover a very large area. In instances of wide-spread cancer, systematic treatments must be sought, such as chemotherapy or hormone therapy. Surgery may cure cancer, at least temporarily, if the cancer can be completely removed. In order to accomplish this completely, a border area of healthy, unaffected cells which surround the cancerous cells must be removed as well.

Often times, however, it is difficult to determine if the cancer has spread to other areas until after the surgery has been attempted. These cancer cells which may have spread to another part of the body may be referred to as secondary cancers, and when they are too small to see on scans they are called micrometastases. These micrometastases, when discovered during surgery, can complicate, lengthen, delay, or even stop the operation. Cancer cells are most likely to spread to particular areas of the body, such as the nearest main lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes to the primary cancer, so during surgery these are often removed to safeguard against micrometasteases. The organ in which the cancerous cells are found is often removed in its entirely as well.

Surgery is often used in conjunction with another therapy method, or an adjuvant treatment method. For example, radiotherapy or chemotherapy may be used after surgery to help combat the threat of cancer appearing in other parts of the body.

Neo-adjuvant treatments are used in conjunction with surgery as well, but these are used before the surgery, rather than after, to help shrink the cancer so that removal by operation will be simpler.

There are, of course, many problems which are common after surgery to remove cancer. Common problems for this type of surgery are also present in almost any surgical procedure, including pain, local infection, chest infection, blood clots, and fluid collection around the wound. (Cancerhelp) In order to help prevent chest infection and blood clots, patients must begin moving around and getting lightweight physical activity soon after surgery. Breathing exercises can also help to prevent chest infections, while specific leg exercise can prevent blood clots in the legs. Pain medication and physical therapy both help to aid in the healing process by providing comfort and making physical movement easier for the patient. Another method which helps to prevent infection is the insertion of drainage tubes at the operation site, which helps control the pain that infection that would accompany fluid buildup at the wound site. Surgery can also have long-term complications, such as nerve pain or lymphoedema. Nerve pain may occur even months after an operation due to nerve ends, which were severed or removed during surgery, growing back. Usually, the burning sensation of nerve pain is temporary and lasts only a few months. However, occasionally nerve pain can become a permanent condition, leaving a patient with constantly burning nerve ends. Lymphoedema is fluid build up in an area where lymph nodes have been removed. This condition is most common in the arms and legs, but can happen anywhere in the body. Lymphoedema, which may become apparent through swelling of the hands or feet, cannot be cured. Lymphoedema must be controlled with treatment for the rest of the patient's life.

Chemotherapy, which is often used in conjunction with surgery or alone, simply means that anti-cancer drugs are used as treatment, stemming from the words "chemical" and "therapy." While literally not being very specific in meaning, chemotherapy drugs are specifically those used in order to kill cells, which means they are cytotoxic drugs. Chemotherapy can be used to shrink cancer before surgery (as a neo-adjuvant treatment), to help prevent reoccurrence of cancer after a surgery (as an adjuvant treatment), in conjunction with radiotherapy, as a solitary treatment for cancer, or to help control symptoms and the speed of growth when cancer is too advanced to cure by any means. (Cancerhelp) Immunotherapy and biological therapy are closely related to chemotherapy, as they are also drugs which are used to help cure or treat cancer. However, these drugs are not referred to as chemotherapy drugs because of the way in which they were developed. There are currently sixty or more cytotoxic drugs in relatively common use that are referred to as chemotherapy drugs, and this number is always increasing as new drugs are developed and approved for use. Chemotherapy drugs may be administered in a hospital, with the time needed in the hospital ranging from a couple hours to several weeks for each treatment. Other drugs are available to take at home with no hospitalization needed.

Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, however not all types of cancer respond to this treatment. Testicular cancer and Hodgkin's lymphoma are types of cancer that are particularly treatable with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is not an appropriate treatment for everyone, and each individual chemotherapy drug has a different set of situations in which it will be considered the most effective and appropriate. Some of the factors which must be considered when considering chemotherapy, and deciding on a specific drug to use, include the type of cancer, where in the body the cancer originated, the "grade" or appearance of the cancerous cells, whether the cancer has spread, and what other treatments have been attempted or are in current use. Chemotherapy may be used alone, with radiotherapy, with surgery, with hormone therapy, with immunotherapy, or with several of these treatments. A bone marrow or stem cell transplant (using the patient's own cells) may accompany a high dose treatment of chemotherapy, allowing the body to replenish the cells which were killed by the drugs used.

Chemotherapy may damage cells which are not affected by cancer, however chemotherapy drugs will cause more damage to cancerous cells than to healthy ones. Certain healthy cells, such as those which are in the process of dividing into two cells, are more susceptible to the chemotherapy drugs. However, while this means that many healthy cells are at risk, this is the basic principle that allows chemotherapy to kill cancer cells. Cancer cells divide far more often than normal cells, growing and multiplying at high rates. This means that the cancer cells will sustain far more overall damage than healthy cells. The genetic material within the nucleus is attacked by chemotherapy either while the cells are splitting, or while the genes are copying in preparation for the cell division. Chemotherapy drugs of these different kinds may be used in conjunction with each other in order to attack the cancer cells at both stages and present a higher chance that all cells will be destroyed.

The often severe side-effects of chemotherapy are caused because the drugs do cause damage to healthy cells. All cells which are dividing, such as in tissues like the skin that grow constantly, will be negatively affected. The hair and lining of the digestive system are also constantly renewing. Hair loss is common with chemotherapy, as are digestive problems such as chronic diarrhea. Fortunately, healthy cells can repair damage at a much faster rate than cancerous cells can do so, which means that after the chemotherapy ends most symptoms fade. However, lasting damage to healthy cells is a concern.

Radiotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses high energy rays to kill cancer cells, and can be used for the same basic purposed as chemotherapy. (Cancerhelp) There are both internal radiotherapy treatment options and external radiotherapy treatment options. The experience of having external radiotherapy may be performed using X-rays, cobalt irradiation, or electrons, while internal radiotherapy may be performed with a radioactive drink, injection, wires, or pellets that are placed near the affected area. The treatment, like an X-ray, is not painful, and in fact cannot be felt at all during the treatment. Approximately forty percent of patients undergoing treatment for cancer have radiotherapy. Radiotherapy, like chemotherapy, does…