Medical oncologists use a variety of techniques to combat cancer, including chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, immunotherapy and other biologics, and targeted therapies—basically, any cancer treatment other than surgery or radiation. The treatments are usually systemic, meaning they target not only the primary tumor but its metastases, as well as some normal cells. Science is rapidly advancing, providing medical oncologists with an ever-growing range of options in the arsenal to fight cancer.
Traditionally, treatments involving the use of drugs that interfere with the growth and replication of cancer cells are called chemotherapy. They are typically administered intravenously (through a vein) or orally, in the form of a pill. Traditional cancer chemotherapy drugs can damage normal cells, as well as cancer cells, causing unpleasant side effects. The process has improved in recent years, and we are now much better at controlling nausea and other side effects of treatment.
This type of therapy uses medication to block hormone production or hormones' effects on cancer cells. It may be an option for breast or prostate cancers, in which the body’s own hormones (estrogen or testosterone) stimulate tumor growth.
Immunotherapy uses medications to stimulate a patient’s immune system to fight cancer. Cancer cells tend to hide or be masked in the body, but immunotherapy has been successful in harnessing the power of one’s own immune system to attack these rogue cells. It is a delicate balance to stimulate this process without also stimulating an autoimmune illness, so patients undergoing immunotherapy are carefully monitored with regular physical exams, blood work, and scans. What’s more, this treatment option is available right here in Marin.
Cancer treatments that “target” cancer cells while minimizing damage to normal, healthy cells may offer the advantage of reduced treatment-related side effects and improved outcomes. As we learn more about the difference between normal cells and cancer cells, we can develop drugs that take advantage of these differences.
We also offer access to a wide variety of clinical trials through our relationships with the National Cancer Institute and various leading pharmaceutical companies.