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Cancer

Last Updated: Tuesday March 17 2009 17:08 GMT

How is it treated?

Radiotherapy

Different types of cancers need different kinds of treatment.

There is no absolute cure yet, but lots of treatments work to get rid of the cancer.

Usually if doctors see where a tumour is, they will operate to cut it out first.

But the tumour may leave cancerous cells behind in the body.

These have to be blitzed away.

There are two main ways of doing this - chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Some cancers need both treatments.

Chemotherapy:

  • Uses different combinations of drugs
  • The drugs spot fast-growing cells which are likely to be cancerous, then poisons and kills them to stop them spreading
  • Usually injected into the bloodstream
  • The chemo swims around the body to attack cancer cells wherever they are
  • Problem is, the drugs can't tell the difference between cancerous and healthy cells
  • Doctors are working on ways of making chemo kill only bad cancer cells
  • Because chemo spots fast-growing cells, it thinks hair follicle cells are cancerous. This can cause some people to lose their hair - but it grows back when treatment stops.

Radiotherapy

  • Uses powerful radiation - similar to x-rays - to destroy cancer cells
  • Usually used to treat solid tumours found in just one place
  • Can only be given to small areas of the body or it will damage healthy cells
  • Is sometimes used to shrink tumours before operations to remove them totally.

Both treatments can make people feel tired and can mean they are more likely to pick up infections like colds.

Usually they just need to rest and stay away from flu-ey people.

When someone has gone through treatment and doctors say they are "in remission", it means the treatment has killed off the cancer cells in the body.