Different treatments for cancer are used alone or in combination. Most cancers are treated with surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy (also known as radiotherapy). Other treatments, such as hormone therapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapies, can also be used for some types of cancer.
There are also treatments that are not mainstream, but are under clinical trial.
The aim of most cancer treatment is to achieve remission, which is when the signs and symptoms of cancer reduce or are no longer detected during routine tests.
When remission is unlikely, cancer treatment can help to relieve symptoms, help you feel as comfortable as possible, and may allow you to live longer. This is called palliative treatment.
Before recommending particular cancer treatments, your doctors will consider several factors. These include:
- the type of cancer you have
- where it began
- whether it has spread to other parts of your body
- your general health
- your age
- what treatments are currently available
- your preferences.
Sometimes it is difficult to decide on the type of treatment to have. You may feel that everything is happening too fast. Check with your doctor how soon your treatment should start, and take as much time as you can before making a decision.
Understanding the disease, the available treatments and possible side effects can help you weigh up the pros and cons of different treatments and make a well-informed decision that’s based on your personal values. You may also want to discuss the options with your doctor, friends and family.
You have the right to accept or refuse any treatment offered. Some people with more advanced cancer choose treatment even if it offers only a small benefit for a short period of time. Others want to make sure the benefits outweigh the side effects so that they have the best possible quality of life.
For more on this, see our general section on Making treatment decisions.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions