Monday, March 10, 2014

Using Medical Oncology to Treat Cancer

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is frightening and many patients often wonder “what should I do next?” With so many treatment options available, it can be difficult to determine what route a patient should take.

“A cancer diagnosis, for most people, can still feel like a crippling blow, there is no question about that,” said Dr. Michael McCormack, a medical oncologist at Meritus Cancer Specialists. “It is important for patients to know that they do have options.”

Treatment of cancer depends on the type and stage. Radiation therapy uses high-energy waves to destroy cancer cells. Surgical treatment is the surgical removal of the cancer from the body, and another option for some patients, is to treat the cancer with medication.

Medical oncology is the use of medication to treat various forms of cancer. The goal is to kill the cancer cells through the use of medication, and stop the cancer cells from growing and dividing. These may include cancers of the breast, prostate, lung or colon.

Chemotherapy is the use of medications to treat cancer. Conventional chemotherapies directly destroy cancer cells. Unfortunately, they also have adverse effects on normal cells, and usually have significant toxicity.

Recent advances have allowed us to take a more “targeted” approach with medications which effect only cancer cells or inhibit their growth. Some examples are Herceptin, Rituxan and Bevacizumab.

Typically, a patient’s treatment starts with their primary care physician. This may be routine testing, or a patient requesting to see their doctor if they are experiencing abnormal symptoms. From there, a biopsy is done if there is some form of growth. If the biopsy reveals cancer, a patient would make an appointment to see an oncologist, like Dr. McCormack. At that point, the oncologist determines the stage level of cancer, if it is curable, and discusses various treatment options with the patient.

Dr. McCormack emphasizes that throughout this process, a patient is not alone.

“I care for patients from the time of diagnosis until resolution,” Dr. McCormack said. “If necessary, I will direct them to other health care providers that can assist them with care. This is a group of people coming together with the single goal of assisting the patient while they are going through a challenging time.”

Dr. McCormack also said that the vast majority of patients who are fighting cancer are able to stay in the area and receive care close to home.

The John R. Marsh Cancer Center, part of Meritus Health, is a local resource that patients can use for cancer treatment. The John R. Marsh Cancer Center utilizes a team of physicians, nurses, and other health care providers to give patients the best in specialized care, right here in Hagerstown.

For cancer prevention, Dr. McCormack suggests that patients speak with their primary care physician and get routine screenings including mammograms, pap smears, and other cancer tests as recommended. He also says that exercise and a low-fat diet are important for staying healthy.

Dr. McCormack’s main piece of advice for cancer prevention, “If you don’t smoke, don’t start, and if you do smoke, I strongly encourage quitting immediately.”

With education, prevention, treatment, and a dedicated health care team, the fear that surrounds a cancer diagnoses can be significantly reduced.

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