Common cancer treatments

There are several different treatments used alone or in combinations to treat different cancers. They all aim to kill cancer cells, stop them growing or remove them from your body.

This section includes information about the most common treatments for young people with cancer. Most cancers are treated with surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy – it’s common to have a combination. Other treatments used for certain types of cancer are bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant, hormone therapy and steroid treatment. There’s also information about complementary and alternative therapies.

Every person with cancer has an individual treatment plan. Yours will depend on the type, stage and location of your cancer, and other factors like your age, general health and your preferences. It will be planned by a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses and other health care team members or allied health practitioners.


Common cancer treatments

The most common cancer treatments are:

  • chemotherapy – the use of anti-cancer drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells
  • surgery – operation by a surgeon to remove a tumour from your body
  • radiotherapy – the use of radiation to kill cancer cells in a specific part of the body, or injure them so they can’t multiply.

Other treatments that may be used are:

  • bone marrow transplant – transfusing healthy bone marrow to replace bone marrow destroyed by chemotherapy
  • hormone therapy – treatment, usually given as a tablet or injection, to change the level or production of particular hormones in the body
  • stem cell transplant – removing some stem cells from your body before high dose chemotherapy and then returning them, or a donor’s, to your body afterwards to form new cells.
  • steroid treatment – having specific steroids (usually as tablets or by injection) to make chemotherapy more effective, reduce inflammation or immune response (after a bone marrow or stem cell transplant) or reduce or control side effects like nausea or headaches.

The treatments above are tested and proven to be effective. If you are using, or thinking about using, any other therapies you should tell your doctor or someone in your treatment team. Many ‘complementary’ therapies (like massage, yoga, meditation) can be helpful in coping with cancer and treatment side effects; but some ‘alternative’ therapies that are promoted as cancer cures can interfere with your treatment or be harmful.


Your treatment plan

Your specialist will arrange for a team of health professionals with expertise in your cancer and treating young people to plan your treatment. This is called a multidisciplinary team.

A multidisciplinary approach ensures all the relevant health professionals discuss your treatment options and jointly develop your care plan. All Youth Cancer Services use multidisciplinary teams to plan your treatment and supportive care to meet your individual needs.

Your doctor or another member of your treatment team will tell you about your treatment options, including the likely outcomes, possible side effects, risks and benefits. They will tell you the team’s recommendation, which could be a combination of different treatments to get the best outcome. They may also suggest you take part in a clinical trial.