Basic Cancer Terms
Medical oncologists are doctors who have special training in treating people with cancer. A medical oncologist chooses each patient’s treatment based on the type of cancer the patient has, how far the cancer has spread and the treatments a patient has already tried.
Cancer treatments may be given alone or in combination with other therapies and are often administered in an outpatient setting, such as an infusion center.
Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to attach and destroy cancer cells directly within the body. Patients may experience side effects during treatment, which varies for each person, depending on the type of drug(s) given and the dosage(s) used during treatment. Side effects may include: hair loss, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and mouth sores.
Chemotherapy drugs may be given alone or in different combinations. They are given in cycles (a treatment period followed by days or weeks of recovery) and most patients find side effects improve during the time period between treatments.
Hormonal therapy uses drugs to block the actions of certain hormones in the body which can cause cancer cells to grow. For example, testosterone (a male sex hormone) stimulates prostate cancer growth and estrogen (a female sex hormone) encourages the growth of certain types of breast cancer.
Biological therapy (also known as immunotherapy) is a type of cancer treatment that works with the body’s own immune system to:
- Stop or slow the growth of cancer cells
- Help the immune system destroy cancer cells
- Prevent cancer from spreading (metastasizing) to other parts of the body
- Control side effects from other treatments.
Some biological therapies include:
- Monoclonal antibodies
- Cancer vaccines
- Colony-stimulating factors
Just like other cancer treatments, biological therapy may also cause side effects. These may include: rashes or swelling where the treatment is injected; flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, bone pain and muscle aches; and lowered blood pressure.