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Conventional therapies

For most people, conventional medicine is the cornerstone of treatment.

After hearing the cancer diagnosis, you probably asked your doctor, how can I get better? Most likely, your oncologist told you about conventional cancer treatments, including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Conventional therapies are the foundation of most cancer treatment. They’re based on established scientific principles and have been proven effective in most cases.

Scientists and doctors have had years to evaluate their effectiveness on a wide range of people and to continually refine the tools and techniques of treatment. Most important, conventional therapies have succesfully treated millions of people and have improved the outlook for millions more.

Different paths to healing

Sometimes conventional treatments are used to eliminate all traces of cancer or to prevent it from recurring. Other times they’re used to help people manage the disease so that they can continue to lead fulfilling lives. While there is a wide range of conventional therapies, most — though not all — fall into one of the following categories:

  • Surgery — an operation to remove part or all of a tumor
  • Chemotherapy — prescription drugs that can damage or destroy cancerous cells
  • Radiation — energy that damages and destroys cancerous cells
  • Immunotherapy — also known as biotherapy — stimulates your immune system, helping your body fight cancer more effectively

How they’re used

Depending on how they are administered, most therapies can be local or systemic, primary or adjuvant.

  • Local therapies treat the part of the body where the tumor is located.
  • Systemic treatments work on your whole body. They are especially useful for cancers that may have spread.
  • Primary therapies are the core of your cancer treatment. Many different therapies can work as primary treatment — it depends on the type and stage of cancer you have.
  • Adjuvant treatments are typically used following the primary therapy to help decrease the risk of cancer coming back. Neo-adjuvant therapies take place before a primary treatment. They prepare your body so that the primary treatment will be more effective.

For example, you can receive chemotherapy locally, directly at the site of a tumor. More often, it is a systemic treatment that circulates throughout your body. Radiation may be the primary therapy for some cancers, but for others it is used as an adjuvant therapy.

A personalized prescription

Even though a treatment is described as conventional, it doesn’t mean that you should receive assembly-line care. Each person’s situation is unique. Your doctor will consider your particular diagnosis, along with your medical history, age, and current health, when advising which course of treatment is best for you.

When learning about your options, it can help to remember that while some conventional therapies may have been traumatic for people in the past, advanced medical technologies have made many of them much easier to tolerate. New drugs and complementary therapies can relieve many side effects and help your body heal faster.