Cancer-Is There An Effective Treatment Essay, Research Paper
One of the many complications with cancer is that there are so many different types. Currently, there are 112 types of cancer, and there is an estimated 80 more types of cancer that are undiscovered. (United States Cancer Rates?) That leads to as many different treatments as there are types of cancer. Figure 1, located after the Recommendations section, on page 8 displays the number of recorded cancer cases over the past 15 years. I propose to look at several types of treatments and decide which method of treatment is the best based on effectiveness, side effects, and cost of each treatment.
History of the Problem
Cancer has affected mankind throughout history. Archeologists have discovered ancient Egyptian manuscripts that describe a fatal illness that often plagued the people. The graphic pictures of the tumors and sickness that eventually took its victim?s life closely parallel our present understanding of cancer (United States Closing in on Cancer?). In medieval times, the ancient Greek theory of the four bodily humors?blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile?were used to explain human illness. Uroscopy charts, which depict shades and conditions of urine samples, were used to indicate what disease might be present in someone. Cancer was commonly explained as the result of an excess of black bile. However, for the first time, it was believed to be possible to cure cancer, but only in its beginning stages.
Today, technology has given us a better understanding of exactly what cancer is and how it affects the human body. However, many people still have false beliefs. To some, the words cancer and death are synonymous. However, that is no longer true as more and more people are surviving the disease.
Recent Studies of the Problem
Serious cancer research has only been around for the past twenty to thirty years. Cancer is defined as a group of many different diseases that share a few important traits. The one thing common to all types of cancer is that they affect the body?s basic unit of life, the cell. Usually, cells grow and reproduce when it is necessary to the body. If cells continue to do this when it is not necessary, then excess tissue can build up and form a tumor.
Tumors can be benign or malignant. Benign tissue is not cancer. It does not spread throughout the body or cause harm to the tissue surrounding it. Malignant tissue is cancer. Malignant tissue is composed of chemical carcinogens (substances that cause cancer) that attack a cell?s DNA, causing an error in the genetic code of the cell. These cells divide so rapidly that they cause damage to nearby tissue. They can also spread and invade other parts of the body through a process known as metastasis. During metastasis, cells detach from the tumor and enter the bloodstream. They are transported throughout the body and start new tumors. (United States What You Need?)
Within the past ten years, researchers have discovered a new method of treatment for cancer that may attribute to its cure. This new method is DNA/gene therapy. DNA/gene therapy is a new way of fighting illnesses that are thought to be incurable.
The human immune system is extremely complex and has several deep levels, which we are just beginning to understand. Specific molecules and mechanisms may be similar, but they can serve very different purposes. Various signals within the body allow the immune system to respond to, identify, and destroy things that don?t belong?whether they are bacteria, viruses, or abnormal cells such as tumors.
Advances in immunology and recombinant DNA techniques have allowed scientists to begin producing in mass quantity certain immune system molecules that would normally be found in trace amounts. Researchers are now looking into their use as therapeutic agents which will stimulate or strengthen a person?s natural immune defense mechanisms to help fight diseases such as cancer. Although this type of treatment is still in a very early stage of development, the initial response by researchers and patients alike gives a lot of hope. In the future, this could be widely used as a main type of treatment.
The information for this paper is being gathered by means of secondary research. All journals, periodicals, and government documents are located in the Prescot Memorial Library at Louisiana Tech University. Some personal interviews may also be noted when necessary.
Cancer: Is There an Effective Treatment?
Everyone knows someone, either directly or indirectly, whose life has been affected by cancer. It is projected that 1 out of 2 males and 1 out of 3 females will be diagnosed with cancer by the year 2002. (Monographs 19) With an increase in the number of cancer cases, which treatment is the best alternative?
With so many different treatments and combination of treatments, it is difficult to decide which individual treatment is the most effective. The effectiveness of a treatment is determined by how much of the cancer the treatment eliminates. The health risks associated with the treatment and the size of the cancer are factors that determine the effectiveness of each treatment.
After a patient is treated for cancer, side effects usually follow. These side effects arise from the highly toxic drugs and x-ray therapy that is associated with cancer treatment. Every form of cancer treatment has certain side effects that are associated with it. These side effects can range anywhere from fatigue to irregular heartbeats.
Since treatment of cancer is a relatively new concept, the overall cost associated with the treatment of the disease is high. Usually, a treatment is administered more than one time. With each treatment, certain anesthetics and other drugs have to be taken by the patient in order to induce certain functions by the body and to reduce side effects. The cost of each treatment entails the treatment itself, the drugs associated with the treatment, and hospital costs.
When most people think of a cancer treatment, chemotherapy is the first thought that comes to mind. Chemotherapy is the least understood cancer treatment. It is not radiation treatment. ?Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells. Anticancer drugs are used to reach areas of the body where cancer cells may be hiding, and to eliminate them before they multiply and hurt the normal cells and organs? (United States Radiation?). The idea is simple??highly toxic chemicals are placed with great precision on the surfaces of target cancer cells, to inactivate or destroy them? (United States Horizons?). Chemotherapy is most often used to reduce the size of tumors that are too big to be surgically removed.
Another form of cancer treatment is surgery. Surgery involves the physical removal of bodily tissue. Doctors perform cancer surgery like any other surgery. Hospital instruments first determine the area of infection. Once the infected area is determined, the patient is prepared for surgery. Maintaining a strict diet and taking several medications prepare patients for surgery. After the patient is deemed ready for surgery, the incisions can be made and the infected tissue can be removed. The length of the surgery usually depends on the location and size of the cancer.
Radiation is the other common form of cancer treatment. Radiation is the use of ionizing radionuclei (example: x-rays) to destroy cancerous cells. Before radiation can be administered, the target cancer cells must be carefully located. Once the target cells are located, patients are usually tattooed in order to mark the spot where the therapy it to be administered. Radiation therapy is usually administered over a long period of time. Patients are given radiation treatment 5 days a week for 6 to 7 weeks.
1st Criteria (Effectiveness of Each Treatment)
Chemotherapy is effective in destroying small cases of cancer. It is applied directly on the cancer cells. The drugs applied to the cancer cells use toxins to destroy the life of the cell. If a cancer tumor can be found in its early stages (1 ? 2 months) chemotherapy is usually recommended. But, the odds of finding and diagnosing a cancer tumor in its early stages is 1in 800. Usually chemotherapy is used to reduce the size of tumors that are too big to be surgically removed and to help destroy any cancer cells that may remain after surgery. Chemotherapy is 77% effective in killing small cases of cancer (United States Cancer Patient Survival).
If a cancer tumor can be located to a specific region, surgery is used to remove the tissue the cancer has infected. Surgery is usually recommended for patients who have small cancer cells scattered throughout the body, and patients who have a single organ that is infected with the cancer. One of the main problems with surgery is that not all of the cancer may be removed. Some cancer cells are extremely small and may be overlooked during operation. Surgery is 69% effective in removing the cancerous tumor (United States Cancer Prevention).
Radiation treatment is by far the most dangerous treatment for cancer. Radiation is used in high doses to kill cancer cells or to prevent them from growing and dividing. Radiation treatment is most often used for patients who have severe cases of cancer. The treatment is applied to the same location on the body every time treatment is administered. Radiation treatment rarely eliminates the cancerous tumor, but it is over 78% effective in stunting the growth of the tumor (United States What You Need?).
2nd Criteria (Side Effects of Each Treatment)
Chemotherapy side effects develop from the anticancer drugs? reaction with fast-growing normal cells that surround the cancer cells. When chemotherapy is applied to the cancer cells it is currently impossible to avoid contact with the surrounding normal cells. Once the normal cells come in contact with the anticancer drugs numerous side effects can arise. The fast-growing, normal cells most likely to be affected are blood cells forming in the bone marrow and cells in the digestive tract (mouth, stomach, intestines, esophagus), reproductive system, and hair follicles. Noticeable symptoms include: hair loss, anemia, infection, blood clotting, diarrhea, constipation, fluid retention, and flu-like symptoms. Usually most side effects are not long term and cease shortly after treatment has ended. For most patients, side effects last for 5 ? 8 months. Although, some long-term problems can develop such as: permanent changes or damage to the heart, lungs, nerves, kidneys, reproductive or other organs.
The side effects that arise from surgery treatment are minimal. Most side effects develop from complications during the surgery. These complications can range from excess loss of blood to infections. The most common side effect of surgery is overlooking small cancer cells on the infected tissue. Usually these cells are treated by an alternate mean of treatment, chemotherapy or radiation. The side effects of surgery, if any, include the recovery time spent in the hospital. Surgery side effects last anywhere form 7 days to 2 months.
Radiation therapy has some of the same side effects as chemotherapy, depending on the area being treated. Radiation therapy affects the normal cells surrounding the infected cancerous cells. The normal cells affected are the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. The effects of radiation therapy leave the body more susceptible to bacteria and viruses. Most of the side effects occur around the area of the body being treated and show up in the form of sores and bruises. The side effects are treated with medication and diet. Side effects of radiation cease within 1 to 2 months after treatment.
* See Table 1, located after the Recommendations section, on page 8 for a complete listing of all side effects associated with cancer and their respective treatments.
3rd Criteria (Cost of Each Treatment)
The cost of chemotherapy includes the drugs administered to the patient and the hospital expenses. Chemotherapy expenses can range depending on the size of the cancer and the type of medication and outpatient therapy given to the patient. For small tumors, chemotherapy cost around $4,500 per treatment (Monographs 20). If chemotherapy is used with other treatments the cost for the chemotherapy is usually $2,500.
Surgery costs are based on the size and location of the cancer. The costs of surgery increase with the difficulty of removing the tumor and related tissue. Surgery costs also include hospital care and any additional medication received by the patient. Most surgery costs range from $4,000 to $9,000 per treatment (United States What You Need to?).
Radiation treatment cost is based on the number of treatments administered to the patient. A person usually receives a total of 33 to 37 treatments. The treatments are given over a period of 2 to 3 months. Other costs associated with radiation treatment are outpatient and hospital care. The average cost for radiation treatment is $1,500 per treatment.
Based on the above set criteria and the solutions proposed, surgery, if possible, is the best treatment for cancer. Surgery is the most effective of the three treatments and it has the lowest risk of severe side effects. Although somewhat costly, the comfort and reliability of surgery far outweigh the dividends.
1) More research is done on DNA/Gene therapy. The current treatments used for treating cancer are extremely costly and detrimental to human health. If a treatment can be developed that utilizes the body?s natural defenses instead of foreign drugs, effectiveness of treatment can be increased and the side effects greatly decreased.
2) Doctor?s concentrate on perfecting one form of cancer treatment. If most researchers concentrate their studies on perfecting one of the current treatments, a 100% effective cure may be found.
3) Researchers develop a way to detect cancer in its early stages. If there was a way for doctors to detect and diagnose cancer while it was in its early stages, the cancer could be eliminated before it spread throughout the body. The early detection of the cancer would not only increase the effectiveness of the treatments, but it would also reduce the number of side effects.
Cancer has plagued mankind for the past 200,000 years. With the rapid increase in human and scientific technology, cancer is no longer a disease that is associated with death. Although risky and somewhat costly, there are treatments for the disease. These treatments are as follows: chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. Based on the efficiency, cost, and side effects of each treatment, surgery is the best alternative. Although the current treatments for cancer are not 100% effective, scientists are currently developing new treatments such as DNA/Gene therapy that may alter the body?s immune system and therefore eliminate the cancer.
Cancer: Is There an Effective Treatment?
Mrs. Debbie Cunconan
Department of English
Louisiana Tech University
February 14, 2000
Figure 1 – Reported Cancer Cases
Table 1 – Side Effects of Cancer Treatment
Side Effect Treatment
Chemotherapy Surgery Radiation
Constipation X X
Delirium X X
Fatigue X X X
Fever, Chills X X X
Nausea X X
Vomiting X X
Oral Complications2 X X
Radiation Enteritis X
Itching X X X
Sleep Disorders X X
1Lymphedema is swelling caused by blocked lymph nodes.
2Oral Complications include mouth sores, dry mouth, and bleeding gums.
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