Because there are so many different sorts of cancer, there are also different sorts of treatment. The doctor always looks for a treatment with the best possible chance of a cure and with the fewest bad side effects as possible.
Doctors all over the world are looking for better and new ways to treat cancer. Who knows one day they will be able to cure all the people and nobody will get cancer anymore.
During an operation the tumour, or as big a part as possible, will be removed by the doctor. First your mum or dad is made to go to sleep. This is called anaesthesia. Sometimes removing the cancer cells is not enough, so the doctor will remove more, the whole breast, for instance, or a leg or a piece of bowel. Of course, that is not nice at all.
People who have an operation often have to stay in hospital for a while. When they come home, they can be weak from the operation. Your mum or dad might not be able do certain things for a while, like lifting heavy things or going upstairs.
Perhaps the doctor will decide to give your mum or dad chemotherapy, also called chemo. These are medicines that attack the cancer cells. They are also called cytostatics (pronounced: sito statics). They make the cancer cells unable to divide and destroy them.
The annoying part of it is that these medicines also attack healthy cells. Cells in the tummy, for instance, that make your mum or dad feel like being sick, or the hair roots so that your mum or dad becomes bald. Luckily after some time the vomiting will go away and the hair will grow back. Some mums and dads will be tired for a long time after they have had chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy can be given through an intravenous drip, in pills or as an injection. Mostly your mum or dad will be given the medicines in hospital, but sometimes they are pills and can be taken at home.
A drip, or intravenous drip, is a plastic bag with a thin tube that hangs on a tall pole and a needle goes from the tube into a vein in your mum or dad’s arm. Usually there is a box with a counter on the pole too. That shows exactly how many drips of medicine are allowed to go through per minute.
Would you like to know more about chemotherapy? Please ask for the book, Chemo-Kasper, if you do. The book is about a boy with cancer, but it is also good to read if your mum or dad has cancer. If the hospital doesn’t know who Chemo-Kasper is, go to www.vokk.nl Sometimes cancer cells give wrong signals to their surroundings. For instance, they tell other cells that they have to grow or that blood vessels need to be made, so that the cancer cells can carry on eating. There are special medicines that can make sure that those wrong signals aren´t sent. That is called targeted treatment.
Cancer cells can be destroyed by irradiation. This is called radiotherapy and is done with a big machine that sends invisible beams aimed very precisely at the cancerous tumour.
It is very precise work because the healthy cells have to be spared as much as possible. That is why the doctor calculates in advance how much radiotherapy is needed and where it should be aimed. Because that has to be on the same spot all the time, ink lines are drawn on your mum or dad’s body, or if your mum or dad’s head needs to have radiotherapy, a mask will be made for them. Your mum or dad will be tired most of the time.
So that as many healthy cells as possible are saved, every radiotherapy treatment only lasts a couple of minutes, but takes place for many days after each other. Sometimes your mum or dad will have to go to hospital every day for four weeks.
Maybe you’d like to come along to see what the department and the machines look like. During the radiotherapy you can watch on a TV screen or from behind a window. Just ask for the book, Radio-Robbie, because it’s all about radiotherapy. What if the hospital doesn´t know who Radio-Robbie is? Go to www.vokk.nl
Some substances the body makes itself, like hormones, make cancer cells grow faster. Of course, that´s not the idea. That is why your mum or dad is sometimes given a treatment to stop the hormones.
This hormone therapy is usually made up of medicines. Most mums and dads get hot flashes from it. Then they get hot very quickly. After a few minutes it goes again. Sometimes hormone therapy is also known as endocrine therapy.
Immunotherapy means that your mum or dad is given medicines that make sure that your mum or dad’s body can defend itself better against cancer cell attacks.
They try to make the body stronger, so that the cancer cells have less chance to grow. For most mums and dads it feels a bit like having the flu.
To make the chance to stop the cancer from coming back as big as possible, some mums and dads have a stem cell transplantation.
Stem cells are a sort of mother cell which –once they are developed – can make various new blood cells. Stem cells are in the bone marrow, that is on the inside of the bones. First of all, your mum or dad will have an injection to make the stem cells move from the bone marrow to the blood. Then the stem cells are taken out of the blood and kept.
After that your mum or dad will get chemo or radiotherapy and then in the end their stem cells will be put back again. If everything goes according to plan, the stem cells will grow into healthy blood cells. While this whole treatment is going on, your mum or dad will sometimes have to be in a separate room and you cannot visit them. That can last a couple of weeks.