Following a diagnosis of cancer, the first and most important step in evaluating and discussing your treatment options with your doctor is to determine the correct stage of your cancer – how far cancer has spread. (Some cancers, such as leukemia, may not be staged). Each stage of cancer, from 0-4, may be treated differently. Generally, the lower the stage, the better the treatment prognosis (outcome).
Cancer treatment varies depending upon the type and stage of cancer, your overall condition, as well as the goal of treatment: to cure, keep from spreading, or to relieve the symptoms caused by cancer to improve quality of life. You and your physician will consider all of these factors to select the optimal treatment plan.Comparing cancer treatments, understanding the goals of specific therapies, as well as the risk and benefits they pose, will help you decide which treatment is most appropriate for your situation. The potential benefits must be balanced against the risks of treatment within the context of the overall goal of receiving cancer therapy. Some drawbacks or risks posed by various cancer treatments may include time away from family and friends, uncomfortable side effects of therapy and/or long-term complications or death. Other important considerations are length, convenience and location of treatment.
- Chemotherapy Protocols
Optimizing Your Treatment
Being diagnosed with cancer can leave you feeling overwhelmed and fearful. But you do not have to face this situation alone. Patients can work closely with their doctors to select the best treatment and include family and friends in a health care team. The entire staff of Midnight Sun Oncology is here to help you achieve the best possible health and cope with the challenges of treatment. Being diagnosed with cancer does not necessarily mean you will die from cancer. Even if your cancer cannot be “cured,” we can almost always significantly improve the length and quality of your life with treatments.There are many things you can do to positively impact your health and state of mind during treatment. Good nutrition, physical exercise and sharing your experiences can help you feel better, both physically and emotionally and can also decrease the effects of chemotherapy.
Your cancer treatment may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, or some combination of all of these or other therapeutic options. Unfortunately, cancer treatments may also damage normal, healthy cells, resulting in side effects. These side effects occur because most cancer treatments cannot distinguish between cancer cells and normal, healthy cells. For example, chemotherapy damages rapidly dividing cells, a hallmark trait of cancer cells. In the process, healthy cells such as blood cells and hair follicles, that rapidly divide, are also damaged. Thus, hair loss and low blood counts are expected with certain types of cancer treatment. Fortunately, there have been vast improvements in cancer treatments over the years, resulting in the prevention and control of many side effects. Some side effects are very challenging but are short-term and not damaging to your health, however others may be serious and require treatment or may even be fatal. Unfortunately, side effects may also prevent doctors from delivering the prescribed dose of therapy at the specific time and schedule of the treatment plan. This can negatively affect the expected outcome since therapy is based on delivering treatment at the dose and schedule of the treatment plan. Any treatment involves potential risks and it is not possible to anticipate all side effects. Midnight Sun Oncology patients receive a booklet with information on how to best manage side effects. It is important to keep your doctor informed about side effects that you experience. Prior to beginning treatment, patients should be aware of these potential side effects and keep your doctors informed if you experience them during treatment:
- Acute reaction to the drug
- Low white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets
- Possible need for blood transfusion
- Increased risk for infection
- Hair loss
- Sore mouth/throat nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation
- Secondary malignancy
- Serious damage to tissues around injection site (skin extravasation)
- Sexual effects and reproductive/fertility problems
- Permanent disability and potential death
- Organ damage affecting the brain, eyes, ears, lungs, heart, liver, kidney/bladder, nerve, muscles, bones, etc.
Remission, a term used to describe the effectiveness of cancer treatment, means that the cancer has disappeared and can no longer be measured using existing technology. Partial and complete remission are terms oncologists use to describe partial or complete disappearance of cancer after treatment. If a remission is not obtained, a cancer cannot be cured; however, a remission does not always ensure that a cancer is cured.The best ways to evaluate the benefits of treatment are to examine the duration of remission, survival and disease-free survival (cure). Remission rates can be useful for comparing therapies when patients have not been evaluated long enough to know whether the chance of cure or survival is improved.
Preparing for Your Visit
Your anxiety about your treatment can be alleviated in part by asking your doctor pertinent questions. We advise you to print out and bring the questions below to your first appointment. You can write the answers down during your appointment and refer to them later.
- What is my diagnosis?
- What stage is my cancer?
- Has the cancer spread?
- What outcome can I expect, and what are the risks and benefits of my cancer treatment?
- What are your recommendations for my treatment options?
- What will my cancer treatment schedule be and how long will treatment last?
- What chemotherapy medications will I be taking, what side effects can I expect and how will they be managed?
- Should I eat before I come for chemotherapy treatment?
- Continue to take my regular medications? Avoid medications such as Tylenol, aspirin, Ibuprofen or others?
- Are there any restrictions on my activities?
- Who should I call if I have a problem? Daytime number? Nighttime number?
- What resources and/or support groups are available to help me deal with my illness?