Cancer has earned its odious reputation as one of the most dreaded terminal illnesses mankind has witnessed and still currently battling. It is a body ravaging disease that malignantly destroys the immune system and subsequently leads to death. There is an array of treatment options for cancer, however, chemotherapy tops the list because of its widespread use in treating cancer patients.
Chemotherapy has no doubt proved effective in killing cancer cells but it comes with a range of severe side effects. This makes people wonder if there are alternatives to chemotherapy. But are there treatment options better than chemotherapy? Read on to find out.
WHAT IS CHEMOTHERAPY
Chemotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that employs drugs to kill fast multiplying cancer cells at the rate at which they multiply. A healthy human body periodically divides and multiplies certain cells when needed, but when cancer is present in the body, it causes a rampant and quick multiplication of these cells that spins out of control and lead to severe health implications.
Chemotherapy steps in by killing these “out of control” dividing cells as quickly as they multiply. It also hinders them from spreading to other parts of the body. In as much as this treatment appears to be very effective, it has adverse effects on the body. Chemotherapy does not only target the promiscuous cells but targets other non-cancerous and fast-growing cells as well.
Some of these cells are the wet membrane cells of the mouth, intestines and hair follicles. Hence, side effects associated with the treatment is the loss of hair, mouth ulcers and nausea.
But there are other side effects that can spring up as a result of the treatment such as hearing deficiencies due to some toxins contained in chemotherapy drugs, increased risk of infection because of a reduction in white blood cells, impairment of the blood clotting system due to a drastic reduction in platelet count, and reproductive issues. It is also implicated in some mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
However, it is expected that some of these side effects should clear up once treatment is concluded.
CHOOSING THE BEST TREATMENT OPTION FOR CANCER
It is important to bear in mind that selecting the best alternatives to chemotherapy depends on three core factors. They include:
- Type of cancer
- Stage of cancer
- The site where the cancer is located
These factors help to inform the physician better on the type of treatment that will be more sensitive to a particular type of cancer, the stage it has attained, and the part of the body it has invaded. So technically speaking, there may and there might not be better treatment options than chemotherapy depending on the type and stage of cancer.
Also, chemotherapy is usually used in combination with other cancer treatments like radiation and surgery, where it makes the treatment more effective by shrinking or reducing the size of tumors caused by cancer.
There are also some certain controversial and non-conventional treatments that is not medically recognized or approved. They are referred to as alternative cancer treatments. These treatments mostly involve the use of coffee enemas and organic diets which may or may not work.
It is important to be well informed about the nature of your cancer by learning more about your condition and having an in-depth discussion with your doctor, so you can make the right decision where treatment options are concerned.
ALTERNATIVES TO CHEMOTHERAPY
The stumbling block to the chemotherapy treatment is the numerous side effects associated with it. This is because it affects all body cells and not just the cells of the specific region where cancer is located. Other treatment options that target only the region where the cancer cells or tumors are sited include :
IMMUNOTHERAPY: One of the key ways through which cancer cells evade treatment is by undergoing genetic changes that make them inconspicuous to the immune system. Immunotherapy helps the body’s immune system to locate these cancerous tumors and eliminate them.
Also known as biological therapy, it uses substances produced by the body or in the laboratory to fight cancer cells. Some immune cells called tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes can be found within or around cancer tumors, the presence of these cells indicates that the immune system is active against the tumor.
Unfortunately, not all cancer patients have immune cells within or around their tumors. This is where immunotherapy comes in, it instigates the immune system to fight against cancer cells with or without the presence of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes.
In cases where lymphocytes are present, immunotherapy strengthens them, and in cases where they are absent, immunotherapy triggers their activation. Immunotherapy is still relatively new and it is not used frequently like chemotherapy. Examples of immunotherapy treatment are:
Immune checkpoint inhibitors: The immune system places a form of roadblock called checkpoints that prevent the immune cells from reacting too strongly. The immune checkpoint inhibitors are drugs used to stop the effect of the checkpoints by blocking them so that the immune cells can effectively fight the hard to kill cancer cells.
T-cell Therapy: This therapy involves strengthening the T-cells of the body to fight against cancer cells. In T-cell therapy, T-cells are taken out of the blood of a cancer patient. The cells are then engineered in the laboratory to carry receptors that can identify cancer cells and fight against them. The modified cells are then grown in large batches within the same laboratory, and they are reintroduced back into the body of the patient where they identify and eliminate cancerous cells.
Cancer Vaccines: Vaccines are introduced into the body to help the immune system recognize unwanted materials that are not part of the cell, these are called antigens. Cancer cells harbor antigens on the surface of their cells. This similar antigens contained in the vaccine stimulates the immune system to identify the cancer-related antigens and eliminate them.
This vaccine can also be made for one cancer patient, where surgery is used to take out a cancer tumor in the body of the patient in order to make the vaccine-specific to that person. This may be needed because cancer Vaccines are only given to people who have the specific cancer antigen used in the vaccine.
TARGETED THERAPY: As the name implies, this is a form of therapy that works by targeting the mechanism through which cancer cells divide and multiply. It makes use of small molecule drugs and monoclonal antibodies. Targeted therapies get in the way of proteins found on the surface of cancer cells that initiates the division and multiplication of the cells.
They also prevent tumors from growing in size by cutting down the supply of blood needed for their growth, in a process known as angiogenesis. By cutting short blood supply, it is impossible for the tumor to grow in size. In cases where the tumor already has a steady flow of blood supply, it eliminates the blood vessels that carry blood to the tumor, hence causing the tumor to deflate. Examples of targeted therapy treatment include :
Monoclonal antibodies: It works in a similar way like the T-cell therapy, but unlike the T-cells that are taken out of the body and modified, monoclonal antibodies, on the other hand, are designed in the laboratory. They are proteins that are engineered to bind to cancer cells. Once linked to the cells, which are hitherto invisible, they become conspicuous to immune cells, which attacks them. Also, They may carry toxins that kill the cells. Once attached to the cancer target, they prevent its division and multiplication.
Angiogenesis inhibitors: They inhibit the flow of blood to cancerous tumors. They also damage the blood vessels that transport blood to the tumors. They include pazopanib, cabozantinib, vandetanib, and lenalidomide among others.
Hormone therapy: They stop the growth of cancer cells by inhibiting the production or action of some hormones needed by the cells to develop. Cancers like breast and prostate cancers need specific hormones to grow. In breast cancer, estrogen and progesterone are the hormones that help cancer cells to multiply. They bind to the hormones using protein receptors.
This targeted form of therapy stops the hormones from binding to the receptors on the cancerous cells or drastically reduces their levels in the blood. This treatment can only be used for people who have cancer cells with receptor sites for hormones, they are referred to as being hormone-receptor-positive. Examples of drugs used for hormone therapy include tamoxifen and faslodex. It can also be administered through injections.