Open Accessibility Menu

An Introduction to Cancer Treatment Options

Soon after you have been diagnosed with cancer, your health care provider will talk to you about
treatment options. There are many ways to treat cancer. Your treatment depends on the type of
cancer you have, the stage, your overall health, and other important factors.

Read this material to help you understand terms you may hear to describe treatment and the
types of cancer treatments you may have. Once your treatment plan has been determined, you
will receive further information.

Terms you may hear that describe cancer treatment:

  • Neoadjuvant treatment — Treatment given as a first step to shrink a tumor or treat cancer before the main treatment is given. Examples of neoadjuvant therapy include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy.
  • Primary treatment — Main treatment used to shrink a tumor or treat cancer. An example might be surgery to remove a tumor. Primary treatments may also be called first-line therapy, induction therapy or primary therapy.
  • Adjuvant treatment — Additional cancer treatment given after primary treatment. The goal of adjuvant treatment is to lower the risk that cancer will come back. Adjuvant therapy may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, or biological therapy.

Cancer treatments

You may have one or more of the treatments listed here. All cancer treatments have benefits, side
effects and risks. You and your health care provider will work together to set up a treatment plan
that is best for you.

Your cancer treatment may include:

  • Chemotherapy — Chemotherapy uses medicine to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy treats the entire body, killing cancer cells no matter where they may be located.
  • Hormone therapy — Some cancers use your body’s hormones to fuel their growth. Hormone therapy can prevent your cancer from growing by reducing hormone production in your body or blocking the cancer’s ability to use your hormones. Hormone therapy is not effective if your cancer is not hormonally sensitive.
  • Immunotherapy — Immunotherapy, also called biological therapy, works with your body’s own immune system to fight off remaining cancer cells. Immunotherapy can either stimulate your body’s own defenses or work along with them.
  • Radiation therapy — Radiation therapy uses beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy most often gets its power from X-rays, but the power can also come from protons or other types of energy. Radiation therapy damages cells by destroying the genetic material that controls how cells grow and divide. It may be used to treat a specific area such as a tumor, or it may be used on the area around an original cancer site to reduce the risk of cancer returning.
  • Surgery — Cancer surgery is an operation to repair or remove part of your body to diagnose or treat cancer. Your health care provider may use cancer surgery to achieve several goals including to diagnose or treat your cancer as well as to relieve the symptoms cancer causes.
  • Targeted therapy — Targeted therapy uses medicines to change specific abnormalities within cancer cells. These medicines target specific protein within the cancer cells.

Cancer research is ongoing and new treatments are becoming available. Talk with your health care
provider to learn more about your treatment plan.

This material is for your education and information only. This content does not replace medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. New medical research may change this information. If you have questions about a medical condition, always talk with your health care provider.