It’s an unfortunate statistic that one in two of us are likely to get cancer in our lifetime; however, this has meant that cancer treatment has come a long way. There are various forms of treatment that are used to tackle all manner of cancers, which greatly increases the likelihood of survival. This is particularly true if cancer is caught in the early stages, as the earlier that it’s identified, the patient’s chances of battling it are increased. If you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to weigh up cancer treatments, your doctor will walk you through an array of options so that you can select what works best for you. So, what is a cancer treatment and how does it work?
Proton Beam Therapy
One of the newest forms of cancer treatment is proton beam therapy. When it comes to proton beam therapy, high-energy proton beams are used in place of photon x-ray electrons or beams. This is a much more precise form of radiotherapy, as it reduces the risk of radiation coming into contact with surrounding healthy tissue and damaging it. This is achieved by tiny particles of an atom known as photons that are delivered via pencil beam scanning, allowing for precisely targeted dosage.
This accuracy and precision allow for the treatment of difficult-to-reach areas, in addition to tumors in sensitive areas. Areas of sensitivity include vital organs, the brain, and the spine, as damage to surrounding tissue in these areas could be detrimental. With standard radiotherapy, the beam enters the body, targets the tumor area, but the beam doesn’t stop at the tumor, meaning that healthy tissue comes into contact with radiation. However, proton beams enter the body, target the tumor area, and then the beam stops.
Radiotherapy uses photons to damage cancer cells, preventing them from replicating and growing, which results in the cancerous cells dying. Although this form of treatment can affect healthy surrounding tissue, healthy cells are typically capable of repairing themselves in between treatment sessions. Radiotherapy may also be paired with other forms of treatment such as chemotherapy, as this often results in the best possible outcome.
Radiotherapy is delivered via linear accelerator (LINAC) machines; these machines are built to mold high-energy x-rays to match the shape of a tumor. This accurate shaping helps reduce side effects and damage to healthy cells. Usually, radiotherapy involves a CT scan and sometimes an MRI ahead of treatment. This allows your treatment team to locate the cancer cells and determine their shape and size.
Chemotherapy involves the use of anti-cancer drugs that destroy cancer cells by disrupting them and preventing them from growing and dividing. This form of cancer treatment is most commonly used to damage mutated cancer cells that weren’t able to repair themselves. Chemotherapy can be delivered as a singular drug or can be administered as a combination. There are roughly 50 licensed chemotherapy drugs, which are suitable for treating over 200 types of cancer.
Chemotherapy is normally used to try and completely cure the patient of their cancer. However, it may also be used to prevent the risk of cancer returning after treatment, as well as reduce the spread of cancer cells. Despite this, some cancers won’t always be curable, meaning that palliative chemotherapy may be offered to relieve symptoms.
There are two ways in which chemotherapy is typically administered, these are intravenously and orally. Intravenous delivery involves the drugs being directly pumped into the bloodstream via a needle. However, oral delivery will be taken in the form of tablets.