A simple and consistent cure for cancer is the holy grail of medical research. But cancer effects such a wide variety of cells in such a wide variety of ways that there is currently no single way to treat every case of cancer effectively. While we think of cancer as being one disease, it is actually several hundred, one for each type of cell or possible mutation that it can affect. This section deals with some of the different treatments for cancer than can be used alone, or in conjunction to treat the disease.
There are many treatments for cancer and many possible drugs even within treatment types, but most of them share a common way of targeting cancer cells. As discussed in the Mitosis section, cancer cells ignore normal checkpoints that stop them from growing and are in Mitosis much more often than normal cells. Because of this, many techniques, Chemotherapy especially, are based on targeting cells that divide often. Chemotherapy drugs are designed to poison cells in the stage of Mitosis and cells that divide often are more likely to take up the many different drugs that are used in treatment and then enter Mitosis before they are able to remove it, resulting in (hopefully) death of the cancer cell. Because this treatment only targets cells that are rapidly dividing, it also catches hair follicles, the cells that make hair, intestines, and the immune system in the crossfire, resulting in many of the side effects people associate with cancer, such as baldness.
While chemotherapy is widely used on many types of cancer with great effectiveness, its success with other cancer types is limited by the toxicity of the drugs and their lethal side effects. If a drug could be developed that allowed the current doses of chemotherapy to be more effective against cancer then patients afflicted with them would be able to live much healthier, longer, and happier lives. This is exactly the goal of the researchers in the Whitehurst Laboratory, and more about there research can be read about in the Research Process section.
Other treatments for cancer besides chemotherapy exist and may be more effective in treating certain types of cancer. There are also experimental treatments being developed by other researchers.
Surgery is common on cancer that is readily accessible, it involves cutting the tumor from the body, and is normally combined with other treatment, to ensure that small parts of the tumor do not survive.
Radiation therapy uses powerful radiation to damage the DNA of cancer cells. Due to the lack of checkpoints in the cell cycle cancer cells have a harder time repairing the damage, and are more likely to die than normal cells. Radiation does have many potential side effects however, including cancer, and care must be taken.
Immunotherapy works by turning the body's natural immune system against the tumor. Since cancer grows from body cells, it is normally not targetted by the immune system, even though it is hazardous, but certain experimental drugs have shown promise in tagging tumors as foreign and allowing the body to attack them, much as it would a virus or bacteria.
Targeted Therapies are a type of experimental therpay that overcomes the side effects of chemotherapy by isolating treatment the tumor. Where chemotherapy is applied to the whole body, targeted therapies apply a treatment to the tumor, and the tumor alone, generally through the use of nanoparticles or drugs that target proteins found only in cancer.