As you age, your risk for cancer increases. Fortunately though, cancer treatment has come a long way in the past couple decades and most people who are diagnosed go on to live long, happy lives. As cancer numbers continue to rise though, many elderly people begin to wonder if they are at risk, and if so, what treatment options they could be facing?
Unfortunately, age is a large risk factor for developing cancer. As people age, their cells lose their ability to renew themselves as easily as when they were younger. This could lead to abnormal cell growth and cancer. Other risk factors include chemicals in the environment, food preservatives, genetics, certain infections, and radiation. People who have a strong genetic risk factor for cancer have an extremely high risk for developing the disease.
Whether you have been diagnosed with cancer, have a family member who was diagnosed, or are simply educating yourself about cancer the following information will be important. Cancer treatment varies by age, health level and by cancer type. Depending on the patient’s genes and their cancer’s type and stage they could be facing numerous treatments. However, there are three main forms of treatment that most cancer patients face. These include: chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
Chemotherapy is the most common type of cancer treatment. Almost every patient who is diagnosed with a form of cancer will undergo some form of chemotherapy. While chemotherapy tends to frighten a lot of people, it is a proven treatment that has great success rates. Chemotherapy drugs can be delivered intravenously, via injection, or in pill form. Most patients undergo months of chemotherapy in the intravenous form. They must travel to cancer centers, hospitals and doctors’ offices every few weeks to undergo hours of intravenous medication. The most common side effect of chemotherapy is hair loss. Since chemo drugs work by reducing cell division, they target cells that rapidly divide such as malignant tumor cells and hair cells. Other common side effects of chemo include nausea, headaches, pain, weight loss and mood changes.
Radiation is a form of targeted treatment that is used to shrink malignant tumors. It utilizes high energy waves to destroy cancer cells and reduce tumor sizes. Often radiation is coupled with chemotherapy or surgery. Radiation therapy is given in a cancer treatment center or at a hospital. The patient will lay down under a specialized camera that will deliver radiation to their tumor. Each session will last for the same amount of time, and patients may undergo radiation sessions numerous times per week. During radiation sessions, the patient must lay completely still. Hospitals and treatment centers will provide patients with music, blankets and pillows in order to make them comfortable. The side effects of radiation therapy include fatigue, changes in skin, and appetite loss.
Surgery is very common for cancer patients. Oncologists utilize surgical techniques to diagnose and treat cancer. For this reason, most people with cancer will have at least one surgery during their diagnosis and treatment process. Surgery can vary by patient and by type of cancer. If patients present with large tumors that are easily identifiable and easy to remove, then oncologists will often suggest surgery to remove the majority of the cancerous tumor. Then patients can undergo other types of treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation.
While chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery are the most common forms of treatment for cancer, there are other types of treatment. Cancer is as unique as the people it affects and every person who is affected by cancer will be treated differently. Here are other, rarer forms of treatment for cancer.
Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that harnesses the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. There are different sub-categories of immunotherapy based on the type of cancer a patient has.
Hyperthermia is the use of heat to treat cancer. It is a rare practice, but it has been found by cancer researchers that high temperatures can kill cancer cells. More research is needed to determine safe ways to utilize hyperthermia for more cancer patients.
Photodynamic therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs known as photosensitizing agents. These drugs are activated within the body under certain wavelengths of light and can be very affective in destroying cancer cells.
Stem Cell Transplants and Bone marrow transplants
Stem cell transplants and Bone marrow transplants are often utilized in blood cancers. These treatments are utilized when a patient’s bone marrow is not working properly. Healthy bone marrow produces blood cells and immunity cells. Patients who are suffering from blood cancers may have faulty bone marrow. Stem cell transplants and bone marrow transplants can restore healthy bone marrow in a patient’s body. With healthy bone marrow, the patient will be able fight their cancer and hopefully recover from it. To undergo a stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant the patient’s own bone marrow must be wiped out usually by giving the patient high doses of chemotherapy sometimes followed by radiation therapy. This procedure completely wipes a patient’s immune system clean and helps remove cancer cells from their body. Due to this, directly after the transplant patients are at an increased risk for infection. Other side effects include inflammation in the throat and mouth and nausea. These transplants are difficult to endure, but have a high recovery rate.
Cancer affects millions of people each year. Thankfully though doctors have come a long way within the past couple of decades and have increased the range of treatment options for patients. Preventative care has also helped many people catch their cancers early so that they can be treated promptly and live long, healthy lives. If you are worried about yourself or about one of your loved ones, then book an appointment with your family doctor. It is never too early to talk with your doctor about fears of cancer or other health issues. Consistent check-ups with your doctor can help you and your loved ones lead healthy lives. If you do find out that you have cancer, then use this guide as a simple tool to learn more about the treatment options that your doctor may prescribe. You can also speak with your doctor about support groups and research websites to educate yourself about your cancer and your treatment plan. The more information you have, the more at peace you will feel about your diagnosis. Plus, always stay positive and remember that due to medical advances in today’s world, most people live through cancer and go on to live healthy lives.
For additional related articles in our home care blog:
- Caring For a Senior Undergoing Chemotherapy
- Cancer in Seniors: A Growing Trend
- Breast Cancer and Senior Women
- Skin Cancer in the Elderly