Other cancer therapies

A number of other cancer therapies are used along with surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. They include hormone therapy, protein kinases inhibitors and immunotherapy. New treatments for cancer are being actively developed and researched.

The other cancer therapies are usually adjuvant treatments that are administered with surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. These treatments often have fewer side effects than, say, chemotherapy.

New forms of treatment are being developed vigorously. Recent years have seen the development of pharmaceutical drugs based on the biology of cancer cells and immunological medicinal products, as well as other treatments. Many new drugs are called targeted drugs that affect with precision a particular protein or molecule.

Hormone therapy

In some cancers, cancer cells exploit the body’s hormones to grow. Hormonal cancer therapy works by preventing this activity. Hormone therapy for cancer therefore seeks to prevent production and effects of hormones that are vital for the cancer in question.

Hormone therapy is a form of targeted drug therapy. Hormonal cancer treatment is used for types of cancer such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer and endometrial cancer. Hormones decisively regulate the normal growth and development of these organs.

Hormonal treatments are always planned on a personal basis and their effects differ greatly from one person to another. Hormone therapy affects human sex hormone levels and can bring about comprehensive symptoms. For example, drugs that block the effects of oestrogen bring on the symptoms of menopause due to female hormone deficiency, though these symptoms can be alleviated.

Compared to chemotherapy, your body tolerates hormone therapy better. Hormonal treatment is usually long term, generally lasting for years. In some cases it may continue for the rest of a patient’s life.

Targeted therapy drugs

Targeted therapy drugs or biological cancer drugs are targeted drug treatment of cancer. There are different kinds of targeted therapy drugs. They include drugs that inhibit the growth of the blood vessels of tumours, antibody drugs and drugs that block specific gene activity in cancer cells.

Targeted therapy drugs are directed at a specific function or ingredient in a cancer cell. The advantage of them is that they often have fewer side effects than chemotherapy and radiotherapy, because the effect of the drug is directed primarily at cancer cells. Targeted therapy drugs, such as antibodies, are becoming increasingly common in the treatment of cancer. Increasingly, the effect of a cancer drug concerns the specific abnormalities in the cell structure and function of certain types of tumour.

Targeted drug therapy is usually given together with chemotherapy or hormonal cancer drugs. Targeted therapy drugs are nowadays used in the treatment of breast cancer, Hodgkin’s disease and colorectal cancer. They are not suitable for treating all types of cancer. For instance, a targeted drug that impacts the function of a specific gene will only work if the gene is active in the cancer in question.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy or immunological cancer therapy is a group of different treatment methods that aim to destroy cancer cells by influencing your body’s defence system in different ways. Immunotherapy seeks to boost the body’s immune system and in that way induce your body’s immune system to attack cancer cells.

In immunotherapy you may be administered substances or cells that destroy cancer cells. Immunological cancer therapy is currently an active focus of research and development.

Antibody therapy

In recent decades antibodies have been an active focus for development. Antibodies have an impact in cancer treatment in many ways. Antibodies developed from cancer tissue can bind to markers (antigens) on the surface of cancer tissue. It is as if the antibodies mark the cancer cells for destruction by the cells of your immune system or trigger the cells’ self-destruction.

Antibodies may also inhibit the influence of various cancer-promoting growth factors. Antibodies can also be used to deliver cancer-destroying substances to cancer cells (cytotoxic drugs or radioactive molecules), and so the damage to healthy cells is less. Your body can tolerate many types of antibody treatment fairly well. The most common adverse side effects are fever, chills and rashes.

Interferon therapy

Interferons are proteins that behave like hormones. They are produced by your body’s own cells. They are used in the treatment of some cancers, either alone or in combination with other anticancer drugs. The drug used in interferon therapy is usually given by injection under the skin or into the muscle.

Treatment usually lasts for months, even years. You can do the interferon injections yourself. Interferon therapy is used for treating lymphomas and melanomas. Interferon is an immunological cancer treatment that seeks to destroy cancer cells by influencing the body’s defence mechanism.

The adverse side effects of interferon therapy include flu-like symptoms and fever. But the range of possible side effects varies greatly.

Sources

Joensuu, Heikki; Jyrkkiö, Sirkku; Kellokumpu-Lehtinen, Pirkko-Liisa; Kouri, Mauri; Roberts, Peter J. & Teppo, Lyly (toim.) (2013) Syöpätaudit. Helsinki: Kustannus Oy Duodecim.

Suomen Syöpäpotilaat ry. Ohjeita sinulle, joka saat syöpälääkehoitoa. Helsinki, 2014.

Suomen Syöpäpotilaat ry. Selviytyjän matkaopas. Helsinki, 2014.