By Oliver Childs March 24, 2014
Let’s be clear, cancer treatment – whether chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery – is no walk in the park. The side effects can be tough. After all, treatments that are designed to kill cancer cells will inevitably affect healthy cells too.
And sometimes, sadly, treatment doesn’t work. We know that it’s very difficult to treat late-stage cancer that has spread throughout the body, and while treatment can provide relief from symptoms and prolong life, it’s not going to be a cure for very advanced cancers.
Surgery is still the most effective treatment we have for cancer, provided it’s diagnosed early enough for an operation to be done. And radiotherapy helps cure more people than cancer drugs. Yet chemotherapy and other cancer drugs have a very important part to play in cancer treatment – in some cases helping to cure the disease, and in others helping to prolong survival.
The claims on the internet that chemotherapy is “only 3 per cent effective” are highly misleading and outdated, and are explored in more depth in these two posts from the Science Based Medicine blog.
We also wrote this post in response to concerns that chemotherapy might “encourage cancer”.
It important to point out that in an increasing number of cases, the drugs do work. For example, more than 96 per cent of all men are now cured of testicular cancer, compared to fewer than 70 per cent in the 1970s thanks in part to a drug we helped to develop called cisplatin. And three-quarters of children with cancer are now cured, compared with around a quarter in the late 1960s – most of them are alive today directly thanks to chemotherapy.
We know that we still have a long way to go until we have effective, kinder treatments for all types of cancer. And it’s important that doctors, patients and their families are realistic and honest about the best options for treatment, especially when cancer is very advanced.
It may be better to opt for treatment aimed at reducing pain and symptoms rather than attempting to cure the disease (palliative care). Balancing quality and quantity of life is always going to be an issue in cancer treatment, and it’s one that each patient must decide for themselves.