- Alternative cancer treatment
- Cancer treatment
Making experimental cancer treatment decision
Making experimental cancer treatment decision with limited amount of information when a stage-4 cancer patient is running out of time is hard. Treatment options for cancer, including standard and experimental cancer treatments, are not limited to one or two isolated therapies. Surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy are maybe the most common choices, but there are more on the list. Moreover, chemotherapy drugs vary widely, and some of them are more effective than others for a given type of cancer. In light of this, specialists deal with tough decisions for each patient in order to provide the best combination of cancer treatment therapies. Factors like cancer stage and grade, patient’s medical history usually drive the decisions about which treatments to employ. Sometimes, a multidisciplinary team is necessary to come up with a good treatment plan. This becomes more evident especially when patients are in advanced stages of the disease, have complications or when standard treatment protocols fail.
In some cases, the standard protocols do not provide the desired response from the tumor. In such cases specialists would start considering experimental treatments and alternatives. These type of decisions are usually made when all other options fail, and the stage of cancer made advances in the meantime. Stage 4 cancer would feel like running out of time for most patients and their families. Often, when they reach that stage, they need to make a new critical decision. Should they proceed with experimental cancer treatment?
Dealing with uncertainty
Experimental treatment does not mean you are going to be tested with an incomplete and dangerous procedure. There are ethical principles behind this type of treatments. Even though they may be experimental, health authorities need to approve their use first based on a number of trials and data from them. Many different trials on animals and humans make sure there is a reasonable margin of safety before these options are released for the general public. However, there is also uncertainty that patients and specialists need to deal with making a decision about experimental cancer therapies.
Many types of cancer can be dealt with by means of surgery and a combination of radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy. Unfortunately cancer has no single predictable behaviour that we can easily track and foresee. It is usually a series of events, one after another: genetic makeup, carcinogens, environmental factors, mutations and individual conditions of each patient. No wonder why uncertainty makes cancer a frightening disease. It is true cancer usually follows a pattern, and most outcomes have been studied and reported, but sometimes new or unexpected developments arise, such as resistance to therapy or unpredictable side effects.
Therefore, dealing with uncertainty becomes a part of the cancer treatment process, and of every decision we make facing cancer. Late stage cancer usually adds more anxiety and emotional turmoil for patients and their family. Making experimental cancer treatment decision is a hard call. Sometimes close relatives are the ones who need to make that call. In such cases we should not lose valuable time, but need to avoid hasty decisions as well. The best way to choose whether or not to start an experimental treatment is learning about it as much as possible.
Regional chemotherapy as a treatment option
The same as many other experimental procedures, regional chemotherapy is not free of uncertainty. It has shown positive effects in many patients, especially in those cancers in which a higher concentration of chemotherapy agents is needed to shrink the tumor, or to stop its growth. Pancreatic carcinoma, metastatic breast and lung cancers, melanoma of the extremities, those are some of the cancer types in which regional chemotherapy has shown good results. The data for the RCT treatment is still limited relative to the standard therapies. Also, only qualified surgeons are able to perform complex procedures such as intra-arterial infusion, isolated perfusion or chemoembolization.
Even with uncertainty and complexity, regional chemotherapy may be especially attractive to many oncological patients and clinicians. RCT delivers very high concentration of the drugs to the tumor. It limits the drugs to the desired area. Later, blood chemofiltration procedure, following regional chemotherapy, helps to keep the drugs from systemic circulation. Thus, regional chemotherapy treatment prevents systemic spread of cytostatic agents and helps patients to avoid undesirable side effects common with most standard treatments.
Many mainstream oncologists are not familiar with modern regional chemotherapy treatments and do not offer this option to their patients. However, many late-stage cancer patients are running out of time after undergoing all of the standard treatment offerings. Therefore, it is important to gather information on experimental treatment options, especially those that show good outcomes for appropriate cancer types and stages.
What is the possible outcome?
As we mentioned previously, every experimental treatment has gone through studies and trials to ensure the patient’s safety. It also has to have the effectiveness of the therapy suitable for general patient population. However, cancer is an unpredictable disease for the reasons expressed above. It is hard, if at all possible to get all the answers. Thus, there no answers to all the questions regarding experimental cancer treatments and procedures.
Patients and their loved ones should weight their options, taking into consideration all the known and the unknown factors. These are variations in the outcomes, potential benefits of the procedure, current prognosis for the disease, and the cost. Not the least factor is the desire of the patient. Such analysis is a hard undertaking for many who deal with late stage cancers and can cause a great deal of anxiety.
Advocacy groups, organizations, physicians and nurses can work side by side with cancer patients, providing information and emotional support. Such support helps in reaching good decisions.
Cancer is a disease that brings on difficult challenges and uncertainty. There are still numerous questions to which many of us need and want answers. The best way to overcome uncertainty is by seeking out information in a supportive environment.