How Cancer Treatments Work Against Cancer Cells

The two most common choices for cancer treatment, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, both affect cancer cells in a similar way. By disrupting the way these cells grow, tumors can be removed or their growth slowed way down. If you or a loved one is preparing for cancer therapy, learn how these tools are effective against your illness.

It Starts with Understanding How Cells Grow

The cells in your body continuously grow and replicate. Each cell contains a set of chromosomes which contain DNA, the instructions that tell the cell how to grow and divide. When a cell replicates, it splits itself into two, each with an identical copy of the DNA. Cells go through a series of phases, sometimes resting, sometimes producing materials to prepare for replication, and finally dividing to make a copy of themselves.

How Treatment Approaches Work Against Cancer Cells

There are two principles that allow chemotherapy and radiation therapy to be effective in treating cancer:

  • If the DNA in a cell is damaged, the cell can no longer grow and replicate. It may survive in a resting phase for awhile, but then it eventually dies and is absorbed by the body.
  • Cancer cells tend to replicate much faster than other non-cancerous cells. A cancerous tumor is a collection of these abnormal cells that grow and divide quickly.

Cancer treatments affect cells that are dividing and break or damage their DNA. Cells that are in a resting phase are affected very little. Rapidly dividing cells are most impacted by the treatment. The cells with damaged DNA can no longer grow or divide.

Some of the cancer cells die quickly, while others may live for awhile. Eventually all of the cells with damaged DNA will die. This is why cancer treatment requires multiple sessions, to make sure as many of the cells as possible are destroyed.

Different Approaches - Similar Results

With radiation therapy, the rays are focused on the area of your body under which the cancerous cells lie. Detailed measurements are taken as to the size of the cancerous mass and the depth under the skin where they exist. Technicians will mark the precise location on your body. Sometimes a mold is created to help hold you in the same position for each treatment. This allows the radiation beam to target only the cancer cells, and fewer healthy cells around them.

A variety of chemotherapy drugs are used depending on the type of cancer cell. The drugs are injected into the bloodstream and are circulated throughout the body. The drugs work on cells it finds that are rapidly replicating. Some healthy cells are affected, but they grow back while the cancer cells are gone permanently.

As advances continue in each of these approaches, better targeting of the cancer cells occurs with less impact to healthy cells. Fewer side effects are also experienced. For many people, these cancer treatments provide a way for the person to live a long and healthy life, free from cancer.

For more information, contact Rahway Reginal Cancer Center or a similar location.