Targeting Cancer Cells Throughout the Body
Just as there are many different kinds of cancers, there are many different kinds of cancer treatments. Not everyone who has cancer will need to see a medical oncologist. Medical oncologists are one of three types of oncologists (doctors who specialize in cancer treatment).
Medical oncologists are board certified in hematology (study and treatment of blood diseases) and oncology (study and treatment of tumors). They treat cancer patients who have the highest risk of distant recurrence, or metastasis. Metastasis occurs when cancer that has developed in one part of the body travels to another part. Medical oncologists are dedicated to providing state-of-the-art treatments to try to stop this from happening.
Other doctors who treat cancer include radiation oncologists, who use the latest radiation therapies to treat cancer, and surgical oncologists, who use advanced surgical techniques to remove cancerous tumors from the body.
Treatments Used by Medical Oncologists
Chemotherapy is the primary intravenous method that medical oncologists use to treat aggressive cancer. A chemical substance that targets growing cells is injected directly into the patient’s bloodstream. Cancer cells grow more rapidly than other cells in the body, so the goal of chemotherapy is to stop their growth and, ideally, shrink the cancerous mass.
Targeted biological therapies are promising oral medicines that are specifically designed to treat certain cancers. Tamoxifen, for example, was one of the earliest targeted biological therapies available, and it was engineered to specifically target the unique development and growth pathways of breast cancer. Olaparib is a newly FDA approved targeted biological therapy for ovarian cancer. Similar therapies exist for a wide variety of other cancers, including lung, liver, skin, and brain cancers.
A subset of targeted biological therapy called hormonal manipulation is also a treatment option for men with prostate cancer and women with breast cancer.
Each patient receives an individualized treatment plan from their medical oncologist. The goal of medical oncology is not just to shrink the cancer, but also to decrease the risk of complications from it and to help patients live as long as possible with a good quality of life. Cancer treatment is a journey for both the patient and the medical oncologist; at Virtua, they are surrounded by a team of other doctors, nurses, navigators, social workers, clinical researchers, genetic counselors, registered dietitians, and personal trainers who can all play a crucial role in successful cancer treatment. These interdisciplinary teams are committed to helping the patient not just survive, but thrive, after their diagnosis.