Types of cancer Treatment

The type of cancer treatment recommended by your doctor depends on the cancer types, size and location of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread and your general health.

The treatment of cancer most common are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. These treatments can be used alone or in combination with other therapies. Other treatment options include anti-cancer therapies, immunotherapy, hormone therapy and bone marrow or hematopoietic stem cells selectively. In addition, patients are asked to make clinical trials on treatment decisions to be taken into account. A clinical trial is a study to test a new treatment to show that safe, effective and perhaps better than standard therapy. Your doctor can help you all the options for clinical trials. Learn more about clinical trials.

The first treatment of a person is given as first-line treatment. Adjuvant therapy is administered after the first treatment (eg chemotherapy after surgery). Neoadjuvant therapy is treatment before the initial treatment (like chemotherapy before surgery) administered.

As cancer treatments become more specialized, many people are now a team of doctors, nurses and specialists treated in health care. Usually, a doctor, often an oncologist, leading to the coordination of personal care. Find out more about the oncology team. It is recommended also important for people with cancer and their families feel comfortable with your doctor and your treatment plan. It is always advisable to seek a second opinion.

Before beginning treatment, consider asking the doctor about the goals of treatment, how long the treatment will take, and the potential side effects. Knowing what to expect before treatment begins can reduce any fear and anxiety you may be feeling about your cancer treatment plan..
Below is an overview of the most common cancer treatments. For more details about treatment for a specific type of cancer, be sure to review the individual Cancer


Surgery involves the removal of cancerous tissue from the body. It is the primary treatment for many types of cancer, and some cancers can be completely removed with surgery alone. Surgery can also confirm a diagnosis (such as with a surgical biopsy), determine the extent of the cancer (called staging), and relieve side effects (such as removing an obstruction to ease pain). Some types of surgery are performed in a clinic or doctor's office instead of the hospital, and the patient returns home the same day. This is called outpatient surgery. Most cancer surgeries, though, are performed in a hospital and the patient must stay at the hospital at least overnight; this is called in-patient surgery. Before any type of surgery, consider preparing a list of questions for the surgeon to discuss beforehand. Carefully review with your doctor any preparation you may need before surgery and learn what to expect when you are scheduled for surgery.
The side effects of surgery depend on the type of surgery and the overall health of the person before surgery. One of the more common side effects is pain, but doctors have ways to provide relief when pain and other side effects occur in most people. Refer to individual Cancer Type sections for more information about surgical procedures for specific cancers. Learn more about the side effects of cancer surgery.


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Systemic chemotherapy is delivered through the bloodstream, targeting cancer cells throughout the body.
Chemotherapy is given by a medical oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with medication. Some people may receive chemotherapy in their doctor's office; others may go to the hospital. A chemotherapy regimen (schedule) usually consists of a specific number of cycles given over a specific time. For example, some drugs are given continuously over several days; some are given several times a week. Learn more about what chemotherapy is and preparing for treatment.

Side effects of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can cause a variety of side effects. However, doctors have made major strides in recent years in reducing many side effects. The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the individual and the dose used, but can include fatigue, risk of infection, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. Depending on the drug, some people may also experience tingling or numbness in the arms and legs, hair loss, and mouth sores. Because some drugs can damage blood cells, a person may experience anemia (low red blood cell counts) and/or an increased risk of infection (low white blood cell counts). These side effects usually go away once treatment is finished. Find out more about the side effects of chemotherapy.
During chemotherapy, a person may lose his or her appetite or develop an aversion to the taste or smell of food. Consider talking with a registered dietitian, who can give suggestions about meal planning and managing side effects through simple nutritional changes. And, learn about using nutrition to manage side effects.
Fortunately, many new drugs do not cause the same, severe side effects as some older chemotherapy. And, medications that reduce side effects caused by chemotherapy are available. Before treatment begins, talk with your doctor or nurse about the possible side effects of the specific type and dose of chemotherapy you’ve been prescribed and how to prevent or relieve side effects if they do occur. Find ways to manage common side effects.

Many people are concerned about the side effects of chemotherapy, both during treatment and many years later (called long-term or late effects). Once treatment is finished, ask your doctor or nurse for a summary of your treatment, such as the drugs and doses used, and any side effects you experienced. Having this information will help a doctor determine if a future health problem is related to the cancer treatment. Learn more about the late effects of cancer treatment.

Radiation treatment

Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to kill cancer cells.
The most common type of radiation treatment is called external-beam radiation therapy, which is radiation given from a machine outside the body. When radiation treatment is given using implants, it is called internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy. Proton therapy is a type of radiation therapy that uses protons instead of x-rays to treat cancer. Learn more about understanding radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy is considered a local treatment, as it only affects one part of the body. The goals of radiation therapy can include shrinking the tumor before surgery, keeping the tumor from returning after surgery, eliminating cancer cells in other parts of the body, and relieving pain.
Before beginning external-beam radiation therapy, the doctor will plan where to aim the radiation. The goal is to hit as much of the tumor as possible while minimizing the exposure of healthy tissue. A person's skin may be marked to show where the radiation will be directed. New computerized techniques help pinpoint the best place to give the radiation.

Side effects of radiation treatment

Radiation therapy can cause a variety of side effects. However, similar to the side effects of chemotherapy, there are now often many ways to reduce or avoid side effects. Side effects from radiation therapy may include fatigue, mild skin reactions, upset stomach, and loose bowel movements. Other side effects may include swelling, redness or irritation of the skin, hair loss, cough or shortness of breath (if the radiation is given to the neck or chest area), mouth sores (if the radiation is given to the head), and digestive problems (if the radiation is given to the abdominal area). These side effects go away once treatment is finished. Internal radiation therapy may cause bleeding, infection, or irritation after the implant is removed. Radiation treatment does not make a person radioactive..
In addition, external-beam radiation therapy may have long-term side effects that can affect a person for many years. For this reason, people who receive radiation therapy should keep a record of their radiation treatment schedule (including the dose and location of the radiation) and report it as part of their medical history; this is particularly important for children and young adults. Long-term side effects can include the risk of a second cancer, infertility (the inability to father a child or maintain a pregnancy), heart problems (from radiation to the chest), gastrointestinal problems (from radiation to the abdominal area), lung fibrosis (scarring or thickening of the lung tissue), neurologic problems, thyroid problems, or osteoporosis. Also, people who have had previous radiation to the chest should be aware that they are at higher risk of developing breast and lung cancers.
Today, most people who receive radiation therapy now receive smaller doses than what was given in years past. And, side effects have been reduced since there are ongoing advancements in how to better direct the radiation beam to affect only the tumor and not the healthy tissue surrounding it. Each person considering radiation therapy should discuss the risks versus benefits of the treatment with his or her doctor before treatment begins. Read some frequently asked questions about radiation therapy and see the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology's (ASTRO) website, www.rtanswers.org.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is a treatment that targets faulty genes or proteins that contribute to cancer growth and development. Targeted therapy is usually given along with another type of treatment, such as chemotherapy. Because these drugs target specific genes or proteins, a test may be needed to find out if the drug will work for a specific type of tumor. Although there aren’t a wide variety of tests available now, many more may be available in the future or as part of a clinical trial as doctors seek to give patients the best possible treatment for their type of cancer.
Generally, targeted treatments do not have the same side effects as traditional chemotherapy. However, depending on the drug and the dosage, a person may experience nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, heart problems, rash, and/or diarrhea. Each drug has specific side effects; talk with your doctor about what side effects to expect and how to manage them..


Immunotherapy (also called biologic therapy) is designed to boost the body's natural defenses to fight the cancer. It uses materials made either by the body or in a laboratory to bolster, target, or restore immune system function. Interferon and colony-stimulating factor are two examples of immunotherapy. The side effects of immunotherapy generally include flu-like symptoms, such as chills, nausea, and fever. Immunotherapy also includes cancer vaccines—an investigational approach to helping the immune system fight cancer..

Hormone therapy

Several types of cancer, including some breast and prostate cancers, can only grow and spread in the presence of natural chemicals in the body called hormones. Hormone therapy fights cancer by changing the amounts of hormones in the body. It is usually used to treat cancers of the prostate, breast, thyroid, and reproductive system. For example, many women take the hormone treatment tamoxifen (Nolvadex) for breast cancer.
Like any treatment, hormone therapy has side effects, and most go away once treatment is finished. The side effects depend on the drug and affect men and women differently. Refer to individual Cancer Type sections for more information about hormone therapy and specific side effects.

Bone marrow and stem cell transplantation

Blood and marrow transplantation is a medical (not a surgical) procedure, lasting weeks to months from start to finish, in which diseased marrow (a spongy, fatty tissue found on the inside of larger bones) or immune system is replaced by a healthier one. For people with cancer, the goal is to destroy every remaining cancer cell. To learn more about this procedure, read the four-part series on Understanding Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation.