If you face a cancer diagnosis, you will likely have many questions. These might include questions about the most appropriate type of treatment or how different treatments will affect you. At the WVU Cancer Institute, we’re here with answers.
Our medical oncologists are specialists in treating cancer with medicine. We use many different types of medicine depending on your cancer diagnosis. They include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormonal therapy, and biological and targeted therapy.
Your medical oncologist works closely with your entire cancer team. They coordinate care between surgeons, radiation oncologists, geneticists, supportive services (including psychosocial support, nutritionists, and physical therapists), and specialists in survivorship.
Chemotherapy, often called chemo, is a group of powerful cancer-killing drugs. It is used as a primary treatment or after other treatments, such as surgery to destroy any cancer cells that might remain. Sometimes, it could also be used in combination with radiation.
Chemotherapy is also used to shrink a tumor before other treatments. This is called neoadjuvant therapy.
There are many ways oncologists give chemo. They include:
- Creams — For certain skin cancers, we use creams or gels that contain chemo medicine applied to the skin.
- Infusion — This approach delivers chemo through a vein in your arm or into a port in your chest.
- Intrathecal or intraperitoneal — Chemo may be given directly to one area, such as the abdomen (intraperitoneal) or the central nervous system (intrathecal).
- Oral — Some chemo is given in pill or capsule form.
Targeted Therapy (biological therapy)
Each cancer has different types of cells. The cells send messages that tell cancer to grow. Targeted therapy blocks those messages, tells cancer cells to destroy themselves, or stops a cancer cell from dividing and making new cells.
Targeted therapy is more selective than chemotherapy. Instead of affecting both healthy and cancerous cells, targeted therapy is aimed at cancer cells only. Typically, healthy cells are not affected, and patients may experience fewer side effects.
We treat many different types of cancer with targeted therapy.
Your body makes different types of hormones to control how certain cells function. Hormones include estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, insulin, and adrenaline. Some cancers need hormones to grow. Medical oncologists use hormone therapy to block those hormones, alter the hormone so it doesn’t work, or stop cancer from growing.
Our team uses hormone therapy to treat different cancers, including breast, endometrial, adrenal, and prostate. You may be given hormone therapy as oral medicine or through injection.
We use infusion therapy to deliver many cancer-fighting medicines. We give infusion therapy medicine and fluids through an IV, a central venous catheter, or a flexible catheter called a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line. Medicine directly enters your bloodstream. From there, it targets and destroys cancer cells. When needed, we give fluids to keep you hydrated, replace electrolytes, build nutrients, and prevent nausea.
Cancer cells may sometimes evade the person’s immune system and remain undetected. Immunotherapies are drugs designed to help your immune system recognize and attack cancer cells.
When you receive treatment, your oncologist and oncology pharmacy team take special precautions to ensure the correct medications are used to target the type of cancer you have.
Often, chemotherapy infusion treatment may take several hours. During this time, your doctor designs a personalized chemotherapy plan, the pharmacy safely prepares your medicine, and your team gives any pre-medications to help reduce side effects from the treatment, infusion time, and post-treatment fluids. The infusion nurses will monitor you closely during the infusion for any reaction or side effects.
Your team is here to answer any questions you have and provide information to help you schedule your appointments.