Treatments have side effects. Understand what side effects to expect and what benefits the treatment offers. Then weigh your willingness to tolerate the side effects to reap the benefits. The goals of therapy can vary, and only you can decide what side effects you're willing to accept to achieve your goal.
For example, if you're a young person with a curable disease, you may be willing to tolerate very severe, short-term side effects for a chance of eliminating your disease. But if you are 85 and have an incurable disease, you may decide not to accept bad side effects if the goal is to live only an additional month or two. For example, the doctor's statement that treatment will increase survival by 50 percent sounds great. But if 50 percent means increasing life from eight weeks to 12 weeks, and those remaining weeks are spent vomiting and battling nausea, weakness and fatigue, maybe you haven't gained much.
Your doctor can outline a plan to prevent many side effects and otherwise treat or lessen others. In general, side effects are reversible, and helping you cope with them should be a focus of your doctor. Take the potential side effects into consideration when choosing a treatment, but also know that most aren't as bad as you've heard. They may have the best of intentions, but family and friends may overwhelm you with their research efforts. And they can be overly enthusiastic in advocating aggressive treatment when they don't fully understand the side effects and outcomes.
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American Cancer Society. Accessed June 15, Pinquart M, et al. Associations of social networks with cancer mortality: A meta-analysis. See also Adjuvant therapy for cancer After a flood, are food and medicines safe to use? Alternative cancer treatments: 10 options to consider Atypical cells: Are they cancer? Chemotherapy nausea and vomiting: Prevention is best defense Chemotherapy side effects: A cause of heart disease?
Curcumin: Can it slow cancer growth? Cancer-related diarrhea Eating during cancer treatment: Tips to make food tastier Fatigue Fertility preservation Get ready for possible side effects of chemotherapy Ginger for nausea: Does it work? High-dose vitamin C: Can it kill cancer cells? Joint pain Joint pain: Rheumatoid arthritis or parvovirus?
The main types of treatment for cancer are:. Often more than one kind of treatment is used. Surgery is often used to take out the tumor and a margin or edge of the healthy tissue around it. The type of surgery done depends on where the tumor is. Ask your doctor if you will need surgery, what kind of surgery you will have, and what to expect.
Any type of surgery can have risks and side effects. Ask the doctor what you can expect. If you have problems, let your doctors know. Doctors who treat cancer should be able to help you with any problems that come up. Radiation uses high-energy rays like x-rays to kill cancer cells. It may be used along with other treatments like surgery or chemo to treat some cancers.
Sometimes radiation alone can kill the cancer cells. Radiation can also be used to help treat symptoms like pain and swelling if the cancer has spread. Radiation can be aimed at the tumor from a machine outside the body. This is called external beam radiation. Radiation can also be given by putting a small source of radiation in or near the tumor. If your doctor suggests radiation treatment, talk about what side effects might happen. Common side effects of radiation are:. Most side effects get better after treatment ends. Some might last longer. Talk to your cancer care team about what you can expect during and after treatment.
Chemo KEY-mo is the short word for chemotherapy, the use of drugs to fight cancer. The drugs are often given through a needle into a vein. They can also be given as shots or pills. These drugs go into the blood and spread through the body. Chemo is often given in cycles or rounds. Each round of treatment is followed by a break.
Most of the time, 2 or more chemo drugs are given. Chemo can make you feel very tired, sick to your stomach, and cause your hair to fall out. Some chemo drugs can have other side effects. But these problems go away after treatment ends. There are ways to treat most chemo side effects. If you have side effects, talk to your cancer care team so they can help. Targeted drugs are made to work mostly on the changes in cells that make them cancer. These drugs affect mainly cancer cells and not normal cells in the body. They may be given alone or along with chemo.
Side effects depend on which drug is used. These drugs often make you feel sick to your stomach and might cause chills, fever, rashes, and headaches. Some cause low blood counts and heart and liver problems. Side effects often go away after treatment ends. There are ways to treat most of the side effects caused by targeted drugs. Immune treatments can be very helpful in treating some types of cancer. These treatments are most often given through a needle into a vein.
Some might cause a fever or make you feel sick. Rarely, these drugs can cause more serious side effects. Clinical trials are research studies that test new drugs or other treatments in people. They compare standard treatments with others that may be better. If you would like to be in a clinical trial, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital takes part in clinical trials.
Clinical trials are one way to get the newest cancer treatment. They are the best way for doctors to find better ways to treat cancer. And if you do sign up for a clinical trial, you can always stop at any time. When you have cancer you might hear about other ways to treat the cancer or treat your symptoms. These may not always be standard medical treatments. These treatments may be vitamins, herbs, diets, and other things. You may wonder about these treatments.
Some of these are known to help, but many have not been tested. Some have been shown not to help. A few have even been found to be harmful. Even when cancer never comes back, people still worry about it. For years after treatment ends, you will see your cancer doctor. At first, your visits may be every few months. Be sure to go to all of these follow-up visits.
Your doctors will ask about symptoms, do physical exams, and may do tests to see if the cancer has come back. Having cancer and dealing with treatment can be hard, but it can also be a time to look at your life in new ways. You might be thinking about how to improve your health. Call us at or talk to your doctor to find out what you can do to feel better.
What you can change is how you live the rest of your life — making healthy choices and feeling as good as you can. The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team. Adenocarcinoma AD-no-KAR-suh- NO -muh : Cancer that starts in the gland cells that line certain organs and make and release substances into the body, such as mucus, digestive juices, or other fluids. Biopsy BY-op-see : Taking out a small piece of tissue to see if there are cancer cells in it.
Most cancers are carcinomas. Lymph nodes limf nodes : Small, bean-shaped collections of immune system tissue found all over the body and connected by lymph vessels; also called lymph glands.
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Metastasis muh-TAS-tuh-sis : Cancer cells that have spread from where they started to other places in the body. We have a lot more information for you. Or, you can call our toll-free number at to talk to one of our cancer information specialists. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy. Category Cancer A-Z. Cancer Basics. What is cancer? Are there different kinds of cancer?
Your doctor can tell you more about the type you have. Questions to ask the doctor Why do you think I have cancer? Where do you think the cancer started? Would you please write down the kind of cancer you think I might have? What will happen next? How does the doctor know I have cancer?
Tests that may be done If signs are pointing to cancer, tests will be done. Here are some of the tests you may need: Lab tests: Blood and urine tests can be used to help find some types of cancer. Grading cancer The cancer cells in the biopsy sample might be given a grade. Questions to ask the doctor What tests will I need to have? Who will do these tests? When will they be done?
Who can explain them to me? How and when will I get the results? Who will explain the results to me? What do I need to do next?
Why me? How serious is my cancer? Questions to ask the doctor Do you know the stage of the cancer? If not, how and when will you find out the stage of the cancer? Would you explain to me what the stage means in my case? Am I going to die?
What kind of treatment will I need? Side effects of surgery Any type of surgery can have risks and side effects. Radiation treatments Radiation uses high-energy rays like x-rays to kill cancer cells. Sometimes, both types of radiation are used.