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Cancer Treatments

When you have been diagnosed with cancer it can be very over whelming. This page will provide information around types of cancer treatments.

Your case and results will be discussed at a multidisciplinary team meeting (MDT), where a group of health of professionals including a MDT coordinator, consultants, histopathologist, radiologist, oncologist and clinical nurse specialists who specialise in the type of cancer you have been diagnosed with.

Your treatment depends on the type of cancer you have been diagnosed with, your fitness levels, past medical history, choice and general well-being. Not all treatments are an option for every patient who has cancer. Your clinical team will discuss with you what treatments are an option for you. There are different types of cancer treatment and understanding how they work, how they are administered, and the side effects can help prepare you to cope. Below you will find the main treatments available for cancer treatments.


Surgery is one of the main treatments for many types of cancer. Surgery means removing tissue from the body.

It can be used to:

  • diagnose cancer
  • treat cancer (on its own or with other treatments)
  • reduce your risk of getting a particular type of cancer (if you already have a high risk)

Whether surgery is the most suitable option for you depends on many factors.

They include:

  • your cancer type
  • size of the cancer, and whether it has spread (stage)
  • where the cancer is in your body
  • your general health

Surgery is not used for some types of cancer of the blood system (leukaemia), or lymphatic system (lymphoma), because cancer cells might be spread throughout the body. If the cancer is in many areas and surgery will not eliminate it, it may not be offered.

Sometimes surgery is not possible because the cancer is near to very delicate tissues, or a blood vessel. In this situation, you might have other treatments instead.

If your cancer has spread, surgery might not be the best treatment for you. It may be better to have a treatment that reaches all parts of your body, such as chemotherapy, targeted cancer drugs or hormone therapy. You may also have radiotherapy to shrink the tumour and help control symptoms.


Chemotherapy is anti-cancer drug treatment. It can be given orally or via a drip. Please refer to our Chemotherapy tab on this website.


Radiotherapy is a treatment for cancer. Radiotherapy can be described as a sunburn to cancer cells. The beams are given to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours. It can be used to try to cure cancer, reduce the chance of cancer coming back or to help relieve symptoms. Radiotherapy means the use of radiation, usually x-rays, to treat cancer. You might have radiotherapy from inside the body, called internal radiotherapy. Or external radiotherapy, which is from outside the body.

Nearly 50 out of 100 (50 per cent) of people have radiotherapy at some point during their cancer treatment.

Most types of radiotherapy use photons. But you might have electrons or more rarely protons. Your doctor will decide which type you need.

External radiotherapy

External radiotherapy targets radiation at the cancer from a radiotherapy machine.

Internal radiotherapy

Internal radiotherapy means having radiation treatment from inside the body.

Radiotherapy to relieve symptoms

Radiotherapy to treat symptoms can improve quality of life is called palliative radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy side effects

Radiotherapy can cause different side effects depending on which part of the body is being treated.

Follow up after radiotherapy

You might have regular follow up appointments at the radiotherapy department or at your original hospital. Your treatment team will let you know.

Cancer drugs

There are many cancer drugs and medications for all types of cancer. Please refer to:

for more information on specific cancer drugs, speak with your clinical team.

Hormone therapy

Hormones are natural substances made by glands in our bodies. They are carried around our body in our bloodstream and act as messengers between one part of our body and another.

Hormones are responsible for many functions in our body, including the growth and activity of certain cells and organs. The endocrine system is the network of glands that make hormones. Hormone therapy blocks or lowers the amount of hormones in the body for certain types of cancer to stop or slow down the growth of cancer. It can be given as an injection or a tablet. Your clinical team will discuss this with you.

Some cancers use hormones to grow or develop. This means the cancer is hormone sensitive or hormone dependent.

Hormone therapy for cancer uses medicines to block or lower the amount of hormones in the body to stop or slow down the growth of cancer.

Hormone therapy stops hormones being made or prevents hormones from making cancer cells grow and divide. It does not work for all cancers.

Cancers that can be hormone sensitive include:

  • breast cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • womb cancer (also called uterine or endometrial cancer)

Stem cell and bone marrow transplants

Bone marrow or stem cell transplant are treatments for some types of cancer. You have them with high dose chemotherapy and sometimes radiotherapy.

Targeted cancer drugs

Targeted cancer drugs work by ‘targeting’ those differences that help a cancer cell to survive and grow. Targeted cancer drugs work by ‘targeting’ those differences that help a cancer cell to survive and grow. They are one of the main treatments for some cancers. For example, advanced melanoma and some types of leukaemia.

There are many different types of targeted drugs. These are grouped together depending on how they work. These groups include monoclonal antibodies, cancer growth blockers, drugs that block cancer blood vessel growth and PARP inhibitors.

How do targeted cancer drugs work?

Cancer cells have changes in their genes (DNA) that make them different from normal cells. These changes mean that they behave differently. Cancer cells can grow faster than normal cells and they die less easily too. Cancer cells also sometimes spread.

Targeted cancer drugs work by ‘targeting’ those differences that a cancer cell has.

The changes in genes that cause one cancer type are often different to the genetic changes causing another. For example, the changes that make a lung cancer grow can be different to ones that make a breast cancer grow. And the changes in the genes of one person who has lung cancer might be different to the changes in someone else with lung cancer.

Targeted drugs target those differences that help a cancer to grow. There are many different targets on cancer cells and different drugs that target them.

Different ways of working

Targeted drugs might:

  • stop cancer cells from dividing and growing
  • seek out cancer cells and kill them
  • encourage the immune system to attack cancer cells
  • stop cancers from growing blood vessels
  • help carry other treatments such as chemotherapy, directly to the cancer cells

You might hear some targeted drugs called biological therapies.

Why might you have targeted drug therapy?

Targeted drugs are not suitable for all types of cancers. But they are one of the main treatments for a few types of cancers. For some other cancers, you have targeted cancer drugs in combination with other treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Researchers are also looking at targeted drugs in clinical trials for many types of cancer.

Whether you have targeted therapy depends on:

  • the type of cancer you have
  • how far your cancer has spread (the stage)
  • other cancer treatments you’ve had


Immunotherapy uses our immune system to fight cancer. It’s a standard treatment for some types of cancer and is in trials for other types of cancer. Immunotherapy uses our immune system to fight cancer. It works by helping the immune system recognise and attack cancer cells.

You might have immunotherapy on its own or with other cancer treatments. Immunotherapy is a standard treatment for some types of cancer. And it is in trials for other types of cancer.

There are different types of immunotherapy. These include monoclonal antibodies, checkpoint inhibitors, and vaccines. Some types of immunotherapy are also called targeted treatments or biological therapies.

Our immune system works to protect the body against infection, illness and disease. It can also protect us from the development of cancer.

The immune system includes the lymph glands, spleen and white blood cells. Normally, it can spot and destroy faulty cells in the body, stopping cancer developing. But a cancer might develop when:

  • the immune system recognises cancer cells but it is not strong enough to kill the cancer cells
  • the cancer cells produce signals that stop the immune system from attacking it
  • the cancer cells hide or escape from the immune system

Immunotherapy helps our immune system to fight cancer. There are different types of immunotherapy treatments. These work in different ways to help our immune system recognise and attack cancer cells.

Immunotherapy is not suitable for all types of cancers. But it is one of the main treatments for a few types.

Researchers are also looking at immunotherapy in clinical trials for some types of cancer.

You can have immunotherapy on its own or in combination with other treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Whether you have immunotherapy depends on:

  • the type of cancer you have
  • how far your cancer has spread (the stage)
  • other cancer treatments you’ve had


Bisphosphonates are drugs that help prevent or slow down bone thinning (osteoporosis). They can help to treat some types of cancer that cause bone damage.

You might hear bisphosphonates called bone hardening or bone strengthening treatment. They are also a treatment for high levels of calcium in your blood.

Doctors also use a drug called denosumab which is an injection as a bone targeted treatment. It’s a type of targeted therapy called a monoclonal antibody.

Other treatments

These are cancer treatments using medical technologies (interventional treatments) including laser treatment, photodynamic therapy and cryotherapy.

Radiofrequency ablation

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) uses heat made by radio waves to kill cancer cells.

Laser treatment

A laser is a very thin, focused beam of light. The beam is aimed at a small area of tissue. It heats the tissue to high temperatures, destroying abnormal cells. Lasers can focus very accurately on tiny areas.

High intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU)

High intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) is a treatment that aims to kill cancer cells with high frequency sound waves. HIFU doesn’t pass through solid bone or air, so it’s not suitable for every cancer.

Photodynamic therapy

Photodynamic therapy is a treatment for non melanoma skin cancer and an experimental treatment for some other types of cancer.


Cryotherapy is a treatment that uses extreme cold to destroy cancer cells. Cryotherapy can be used to treat different types of cancer and precancerous conditions.

Ultraviolet light treatment

Ultraviolet light is a treatment for a number of skin conditions including a type of skin cancer called T cell lymphoma. Find out more about how it works, and possible side effects.

Electrochemotherapy for cancers affecting the skin

Doctors use electrochemotherapy for cancers that started in the skin or have spread to the skin.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are medical research studies involving people. They test new treatments for cancer and ways to reduce side effects or control symptoms. Trials also look at ways to improve prevention, screening, and diagnosis of cancer. Please refer to the tab extra support. you will find a leaflet called clinical trials.

Complementary and alternative therapies

There is an important difference between a complementary therapy and an alternative therapy.

The phrases complementary therapy and alternative therapy are often used as if they mean the same thing. They may also be combined into one phrase – complementary and alternative therapies (CAMs).

A complementary therapy means you can use it alongside your conventional medical treatment. It may help you to feel better and cope better with your cancer and treatment.

An alternative therapy is generally used instead of conventional medical treatment.

All conventional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, have to go through rigorous testing by law in order to prove that they work. Most alternative therapies have not been through such testing and there is no scientific evidence that they work. Some types of alternative therapy may not be completely safe and could cause harmful side effects.

Talk to your cancer doctor, GP, or specialist nurse if you’re considering using any complementary or alternative therapies. Some treatments may interact. Also let your complementary or alternative therapist know about your conventional cancer treatment.

What are complementary therapies?

Complementary therapies are used alongside conventional medical treatments prescribed by your doctor. They can help people with cancer to feel better and may improve your quality of life. They may also help you to cope better with symptoms caused by the cancer or side effects caused by cancer treatment.

A good complementary therapist won’t claim that the therapy will cure your cancer. They will always encourage you to discuss any therapies with your cancer doctor or GP.

There are many different types of complementary therapy, including:

  • aromatherapy
  • acupuncture
  • herbal medicine
  • massage therapy
  • visualisation
  • yoga

Many health professionals are supportive of people with cancer using complementary therapies. There are some health professionals that have been reluctant for their patients to use them. This is usually because many therapies have not been scientifically tested in the same way as conventional treatments.

Research has been carried out to see how well complementary therapies work for people with cancer. And there is some still in progress. But we need more to find out how best to use complementary therapies.

What are alternative therapies?

Alternative therapies are used instead of conventional medical treatment. People with cancer have various reasons for wanting to try alternative therapies.

There is no scientific or medical evidence to show that alternative therapies can cure cancer. Some alternative therapies are unsafe and can cause harmful side effects. Or they may interact with your conventional medical treatment. This could increase the risk of harmful side effects or may stop the conventional treatment working so well. Giving up your conventional cancer treatment could reduce your chance of curing or controlling your cancer.

Some alternative therapies sound promising, but the claims are not supported by scientific evidence and can give some people false hope.

In Dudley we have The White house cancer Support who are a voluntary organisation who provide support for cancer patients. They provide a range of complimentary therapies, counselling, support groups and much more. Patients can self-refer. Please refer to the extra support tab on this website for more information.

Palliative treatment

Palliative treatment is a term used for treatment for cancer that is not curative. Palliative treatment can be used to relieve symptoms and improve your quality of life. It can be used at any stage of an illness if there are troubling symptoms, such as pain or sickness.

It can also be used to reduce or control the side effects of cancer treatments. In advanced cancer, palliative treatment might help someone to live longer and to live comfortably, even if they cannot be cured.

The treatment is not limited to painkillers and anti sickness drugs. Cancer treatments can also reduce or get rid of symptoms. For example, they can help to reduce pain by shrinking a tumour and reducing pressure on nerves or surrounding tissues. Treatments used in this way include:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiotherapy
  • hormone therapy
  • targeted cancer drugs
  • radiofrequency ablation
  • cryotherapy

To find out more about treatments please look at