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Home  /  Integrative Cancer Care  /  Body  /  Conventional Cancer Care  /  Conventional Cancer Treatments

Conventional Cancer Treatments

By Jeannine Walston

Conventional cancer treatments consist of standard of care therapies.Conventional Treatments

People with cancer must thoroughly research and evaluate conventional treatment options for their diagnosis as part of integrative cancer care.

What are the most common types of conventional cancer treatments?

  • Surgery
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Angiogenesis inhibitors
  • Immunotherapy
  • Tumor Markers

The cancer treatment categories include a range of procedures, machines, drugs, and/or approaches. Cancer patients may receive combinations of conventional cancer treatments to target as many cancer cells as possible both visible through diagnostic testing and those not detectable. The goal is to receive cancer treatments supporting the highest level of potential efficacy with the lowest level of potential harm. Cancer side effects associated with each cancer treatment must be very carefully considered.

Decisions about conventional cancer treatments depend on many factors, including the type, stage, location(s), size, overall health of the person with cancer, age, previous cancer treatments, available scientific evidence, clinician’s experience and preferences, as well as the patient’s values and expectations. All of that incorporates Evidence-Based Medicine.

This chapter in your life may feel stressful. Make sure you have support, and give tenderness to yourself with self-care. Explore other integrative cancer care articles to support your body, mind, spirit, social, and environmental health, including how to create an integrative cancer care plan to improve your quality of life and cancer survival.


Surgery refers to a procedure removing cancerous tissue from the body. Surgeons cut the visible cancer cells and in some cases surrounding tissues that may harbor small, invisible cancer cells. The goal is to remove as much cancer as possible without harming the patient. Sometimes the visible form of cancer in a person can be removed by surgery alone. Surgery can help to confirm the diagnosis, stage of cancer, improve some adverse effects related to the cancer, and reduce pain. Tumor tissue from surgery may also be used for tests to determine its molecular targets (for Targeted Therapy) and/or to create a vaccine (for Immunotherapy).


Radiation is the use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy injures or destroys cells in the area being treated by damaging their genetic material hindering further growth and division of cancer cells. Other benefits include reduced pressure, pain, and other symptoms of cancer. The goal of radiation therapy is to target as many cancer cells as possible and limit harm to healthy tissue. Radiation can damage noncancerous cells and have other adverse effects in the body. There are many different types of radiation.


Chemotherapy is a drug to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs may be swallowed orally, injected into a vein, muscle, or fat, applied topically, given into the peritoneal cavity (abdominal area with the intestines, stomach, liver, and ovaries), or directly into the artery that is feeding the cancer. Cancer patients sometime receive combinations of chemotherapy drugs with the intention of improved efficacy.

Chemotherapy is typically a systemic treatment that circulates throughout the entire body killing original cancer cells in the primary site and those that have spread to other locations. Since it destroys reproducing cells, chemotherapy cannot distinguish between noncancerous and cancerous cells. Chemotherapy treatments are given in cycles of medication and recovery to allow noncancerous cells to heal and the body to recover. Due to its toxicity, chemotherapy often causes immediate as well as short and long term late effects in people receiving this treatment. Adverse effects vary due to the drug and individual patient.

Targeted Therapy (Molecular Targets, Monoclonal Antibodies, Signal Transduction Inhibitors, Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors)

Targeted therapy (also called molecular targets, monoclonal antibodies, signal transduction inhibitors, and tyrosine kinase inhibitors) consists of drugs or other substances that block the growth and spread of cancer by interfering with specific molecules involved in tumor growth and progression. These molecules include proteins, genes, enzymes, growth factor receptors, and other substances.

Many of these therapies target cell signaling pathways that form a complex communication system governing basic cellular functions and activities such as cell division, cell movement, how a cell responds to specific external stimuli, and cell death. By blocking signals supporting cancer growth, targeted therapy can help stop cancer progression and may induce cancer cell death directly. Targeted therapy can also cause cancer cell death indirectly through stimulating the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells and/or delivering toxic substances to them. Since all tumors do not have the same target, ideally tests are performed to profile patients and their disease for a more informed decision about these treatments and others.

Angiogenesis Inhibitors (Signal Transduction Inhibitors, Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors)

Angiogenesis (also called signal transduction inhibitors and tyrosine kinase inhibitors) is the formation of new blood vessels controlled by certain chemicals produced in the body. Those chemicals help to repair damaged blood vessels or form new ones.

Since blood vessels support cancer, angiogenesis is an area for cancer treatments. Angiogenesis plays an important role in the growth and spread of cancer. New blood vessels feed the cancer cells with oxygen and nutrients allowing these cells to grow, invade nearby tissue, spread to other parts of the body, and form new colonies of cancer cells.

Cancer drugs, called angiogenesis inhibitors, inhibit blood vessels supporting cancerous growth. Since tumors cannot grow or spread without the formation of new blood vessels, scientists have developed drugs to stop angiogenesis. Natural and synthetic angiogenesis inhibitors, called antiangiogenic agents, prevent or slow down the growth of cancer by blocking the formation of new blood vessels. Some angiogenesis inhibitors also work as targeted therapy against cancer cells.

Immunotherapy (Biological Therapy)

Immunotherapy (also called biological therapy) uses the body’s natural defenses of the immune system, either directly or indirectly, to fight cancer with materials made either by the body or in a laboratory. Immunotherapy is also used to lessen the side effects that may be caused by some conventional cancer treatments. Categories of conventional cancer treatments used in cancer immunotherapy include monoclonal antibodies, growth factors, interferons, interleukins, and vaccines, among other approaches. Other integrative cancer care treatments support the immune system through natural therapies and lifestyle choices.

The immune system is a body wide integrated network of cells, tissues, and organs that works to safeguard health. At the core of the immune system is the ability to differentiate between self and non-self. The immune system is designed to defend the body against attacks by foreign or non-self invaders. However, the immune system does not always recognize cancer cells as foreign or non-self. Therefore, cancer may develop when the immune system breaks down or does not function adequately in the recognition of foreign invaders.

Tumor Markers

Tumor markers (also called biomarkers) are substances found in the blood, urine, or tissues that are produced by tumor cells or by other cells in the body in response to cancer or certain benign conditions. Research has identified specific tumor markers for some types of cancers, but not others. Tumor markers can help diagnosis cancer, responsiveness of cancer treatments, as well as recurrence.

Where can I find more information about conventional cancer treatments and find an oncologist?

Top Rated Cancer Information outlines many of the most prominent organizations and websites with detailed information about conventional cancer treatments and how to find an oncologist.

Questions for Evaluating Cancer Treatments and Providers offers tips about what to ask when exploring conventional and integrative cancer care. A critical assessment of cancer treatments, and any therapies for your health, must include a comprehensive analysis of potential risks versus benefits.

How to Create an Integrative Cancer Care Plan provides a step-by-step process about how to find the best of conventional and integrative cancer care.

Cancer Center Integrative Cancer Resources to help provide extensive cancer information for the cancer journey.

Cancer Coach helps cancer patients and caregivers navigate through their journey to find the best quality cancer care.