You’ve got the diagnosis: It’s cancer. Now, your doctor will come up with a plan to treat it. Between surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and other tools, how does she choose what’s right for you?
Many issues come into play when a doctor is planning treatment, but there are three main things doctors think about, says Christopher Filson, MD, a urologist and prostate cancer specialist at Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta.
1. The cancer itself. Doctors will go through all your test results to find out how “risky” the cancer is, Filson says. Cancers that have been found early generally need less treatment than more advanced ones, which might need a more complex plan.
2. Your overall health. Doctors will consider your age and any other health problems you have. Understanding how frail or robust a person is becomes important when talking about treatment options.
3. Your wishes. “Everybody values different aspects of cancer care differently,” Filson says. In some cases, people will accept a slightly higher risk of cancer coming back in exchange for something else, like a treatment with a lower risk of side effects or picking radiation to avoid surgery.
After you get a clear picture of your situation, you and your doctors will decide on care goals. Is the cancer curable? If not, can treatment slow its growth and prevent symptoms? From there, you can think about a specific therapy to try.
Common Cancer Treatments
Your doctor may recommend one of these treatments:
Surgery. You may need an operation to remove a tumor. Surgery is most successful when the disease hasn’t spread to other parts of your body. Depending on what kind of cancer you have, it may be your best chance at a cure. Doctors also may suggest surgery to treat problems caused by cancer, like a tumor that’s blocking your intestines.
Radiation. Doctors use it mostly to treat tumors that are only in one area of your body. Radiation kills cancer cells or damages them so they can’t grow. High-energy rays from a machine target the cancer from outside your body. Or your doctor may suggest putting a small radiation implant near the tumor to fight it from the inside.