Surgery - Surgery remains one of the most effective weapons against multiple kinds of cancer. Many cancers, however, are inoperable (because of location, for example), and many operable cancers require traumatic surgery. Doctors and scientists are devising new techniques to reduce the trauma of surgery, such as lymphatic mapping with dyes and radioactive tracers, which may help surgeons be more selective and less invasive when removing cancers.
Radiation - Radiation has been used for decades as a tool for eradicating many kinds of cancerous cells (especially in the prostate, solid tumors in internal organs, and lymphomas), but it is also harmful to the body's healthy cells. Doctors and scientists are in the process of perfecting radiation techniques that use 3-D images to home in on individual cells, aiming precisely at the cancer and sparing healthy tissue.
Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy is an increasingly important aspect of cancer treatment. Alkylating agents, which work by impairing cell division, and antimetabolites, which interfere with the enzymes that allow cancer cells to thrive, are used to attack malignant cells. Chemotherapy has serious drawbacks, however, as the drugs destroy both healthy and cancerous cells and can result in terrible side effects. Work is being done on tumor specific agents that attack only cancer cells.
Anti-angiogenic drugs - Anti-angiogenic drugs contain organic or synthetic molecules that can block the formation of new blood vessels in the body and destroy existing abnormal blood vessels. Since growing tumors secrete substances that stimulate new blood vessel growth in order to receive the nutrients they need to live and enlarge, anti-angiogenic drugs may help to "starve" tumors and inhibit the progression of many kinds of cancer. At this time, anti-angiogenic drugs are available only in clinical trials. Their utility has not yet been clinically proven.
Anti-metastatic drugs - The most lethal aspect of any kind of cancer is the possibility of metastatic spread from one primary tumor to other points in the body. Scientists now understand that cancer cells are helped along in their journey through the body by special enzymes that allow them to pass easily through capillary walls. Anti-metastatic drugs, which are still being tested in clinical trials, may be able to block these enzymes and confine cancer cells to the primary tumor. As with anti-angiogenic drugs, the utility of anti-metastatic treatments are as yet clinically unproven.
Anti-oncogenic drugs - In order to grow, tumor cells produce chemical growth factors by switching on oncogenes. Many tumors rely on a mutation of the RAS oncogene in order to develop. Scientists hope that new anti-oncogenic drugs designed to inhibit the growth-inducing signals produced by the RAS oncogene could stop cancer cells in the breast, colon, pancreas, and lung in their tracks early on in their development.
Chemoprevention therapies - Chemoprevention therapies aim to prevent the recurrence of cancer in patients who are in remission. In the case of breast cancer, for example, the drug Tamoxifen has been shown in some women to effectively block estrogen from feeding the growth of potential tumors in the breast.