Cancer Care

Types of Systemic Therapy

Systemic therapy uses many medications. In general they fall into three categories:

  1. Chemotherapy
  2. Hormones and hormone inhibitors
  3. Biological therapy/immunotherapy

Chemotherapy stops cancer cell growth by preventing cells from dividing into more cells. There are many ways that scientists have found to do this, so there are now many different kinds of these medications.

Hormone therapy plays a very important role in systemic therapy. Sex hormone inhibitors are used to treat tumors that grow better with the hormones estrogen and testosterone. These are hormones that naturally occur in the body. The inhibitors stop the hormones from helping the tumor grow.

Two commonly used hormone inhibitors are tamoxifen, which blocks female hormones in breast cancer, and finasteride, which blocks testosterone in men with prostate cancer. Hormones, such as cortisone (Prednisone), are also used to treat some tumors.

Biological therapy, or immunotherapy, is the name for a new, growing group of cancer medications. They are medicines that help the immune system work better and fight the cancer. Interferon is an example of one of these medications.

Another example of biologic therapy is the use of antibodies. The goal is to identify or create antibodies that can bind to cancer cells. The antibodies can keep the cancer cells from multiplying, or they may destroy them. This type of therapy is also called biotherapy or biological response modifier therapy (BRM).

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