Cancer Info Series: Ways to Treat Cancer

What are the ways to treat Cancer? Since the beginning of modern medicine, there have been three ways to treat cancer. We can burn it up with radiation, cut it out with surgery, or poison it with chemotherapy. Any combination of these treatments may be used depending on the state of the cancer and the patient.

There are 3 Ways to Treat Cancer

The best way to think about it is to draw comparisons to lawn care. Surgery or radiation treats one area at a time like spraying a bottle of Roundup on a single dandelion at a time. Chemotherapy treats the entire body like spreading weed killer over an entire lawn. It treats the weeds you see and the weeds you don’t.

Radiation – Radiation therapy is essentially cooking a tumor with a thousand x-rays at one time. We only treat single areas since we can’t radiate an entire body.

Surgery – Surgery is the easiest one to understand. The goal is to cut out the entire tumor, if at all possible. Stuff happens on a regular basis, though, that prevents us from doing it. Essentially, if you can’t get out all cancer, surgery is not the best option.

“Following a surgery, we have a way to determine whether we were able to remove the entire tumor”

Sometimes, you have cancer in a whole bunch of different spots or the cancer is next to a major organ. In times like these, surgery may not be the best option. If it is an option though, we try to get it all with a single surgery. The way that we do that is by taking the tumor and its “margin”. The margin is like the rind of an orange. If I give you an orange, the only way that you can say that you got all of the orange is if I give it to you with its rind intact. If I peel the orange first, I don’t care how sharp my knife or fingernails are, there will always be rind on the fleshy orange and fleshy orange on the rind.

There is no way that you can peel an orange cleanly. It is the same thing for a tumor. The goal is to get it out with its rind. If we ever get too close to a tumor, or cut into the tumor, then we can never be certain that we got it all out.

ways to treat cancer

Removing a layer–a “rind“– of healthy cells around a tumor helps surgeons ensure that they removed all dangerous cancer cells.

Following a surgery, we have a way to determine whether we were able to remove the entire tumor. If we take a whole orange, rind-intact, and dip it into a tub of ink, and then let the ink dry completely, there should be no ink inside the orange. The rind will have protected it. If we sliced any part of the orange and there was ink in the flesh, then it is safe to assume that a portion of the rind was missing.

Removing a layer of healthy cells around a tumor helps surgeons ensure that they removed all dangerous cancer cells.

Examining a removed tumor works the same way. We immerse the tumor into a type of ink that does not pass through healthy cells. Then, we slice it to see if ink appears in any of the cancerous cells. If so, then we didn’t get a big enough “rind” around the cancerous area. We may then have to go back to take a little more.

ChemotherapyChemotherapy is probably the hardest method to understand and yet it’s the most important part of cancer treatment. Chemotherapy essentially chases cancer cells through the pathways that they use to spread to other parts of the body. Most cancer spreads through the bloodstream, and that’s where we put the chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is like Roundup for plants. Roundup is no more than plant food that has been made poisonous. The plants don’t know this! It eats the food thinking that it is normal and dies several days later. The faster the plant is growing the more it eats and the faster it dies. Most weeds in your yard grow faster than the grass and therefore eat more poison than the grass. That’s why the weeds die and the grass lives. Though there are many different kinds of chemotherapy medicines, many of them behave just like Roundup.

Surgery and radiation treat one area at a time like spraying a bottle of Roundup on a single dandelion at a time. Chemotherapy treats the entire body like spreading weed killer over an entire lawn. It treats the weeds you see and the weeds you don’t.

Chemotherapy for people is like Roundup for plants

The chemotherapy is a poison that looks like food to a cell. Cells that are growing the fastest eat the most and die the quickest. Cancer cells grow faster than almost all normal cells. The only cells that grow as quickly are hair cells, the cells of the immune system, and the cells of the lining of the gut. This is why, for many regimens, people still lose their hair, lose their immune system, and have terrible diarrhea and the like.

Chemotherapy is often given in what doctors call cycles. A cycle is the time between the first dose of chemotherapy and the next dose. It often lasts 3 to 4 weeks. Right after the first medicine is given, it takes 4 to 5 days for it to work. It then takes another 4 to 5 days to reach the maximum amount of activity. Then the normal cells that unfortunately ate a little bit of the poison must recover. Once the body has recovered, the whole process is started again for the next cycle. Some cancers require 2 to 3 cycles while others require a dozen or more.

Thank you for reading this article about the ways to treat cancer.

Also in this Series: What Are the Stages of Cancer?