Coping With Emotions

Different Types of Cancer Therapy: A Handy Guide for New Patients

Talk to your doctor to fully understand your disease and treatment options so you feel more in control and empowered to make health decisions.

When it comes to cancer, sometimes starting treatment is just as intimidating as the diagnosis. Knowing how far medicine has come in managing cancer and types of cancer therapy can soothe that unease.

Not only do doctors work to treat your physical illness, but your entire care team also comes together to treat you as a whole person. You have nurses, navigators, therapists, nutritionists and other specialists at your disposal to cope with the physical, emotional, social and spiritual effects of cancer and treatment. The UVA Your Center archives are a trove of information about the different types of cancer treatments you may encounter.

Starting Cancer Treatment

To alleviate your concerns and ensure your treatment plan encompasses your values and goals, you need to have an honest conversation with your doctor. This article weighs the three most common treatment options, along with questions you should ask your doctor. Learn as much as you can about your prognosis, treatment options, possible side effects and options for managing those side effects. Tell your doctors what’s important to you in terms of treatment and limitations.

Types of Cancer Therapy

As cancer treatments advance and become more targeted, the side effects are minimized. Newer chemotherapy drugs have fewer side effects. Targeted radiation causes less damage to surrounding healthy tissue. Advanced surgical techniques reduce pain and healing time.

Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are the most common types of cancer therapy. Ask detailed questions about the risks and benefits of each therapy. This article addresses resources such as palliative care and complementary therapies to try while you’re in treatment. Palliative care specialists design a plan to control the symptoms of your disease, along with any side effects, while you go through treatment.


This treatment uses chemicals to kill cancer cells and stop their growth. It may be administered through an infusion or you may take a pill. Chemotherapy is used for many types of cancer. Ask your doctor what you’ll be taking, how long you’ll take it and possible ways to manage side effects. This article also reviews ways you can alleviate chemo brain, a common side effect of chemotherapy treatment.


Radiation therapy delivers radiation to your cancer cells to kill them and stop them from spreading. In recent years, this treatment has become much more targeted, aiming the high doses of radiation at the tumor site and sparing healthy tissue around the cancer.

Radiation may be given externally, where the doses are aimed from outside the body, or internally, where the radiation is put in or near the cancer cells. This article outlines UVA Cancer Center’s high-dose rate brachytherapy, a form of internal radiation, to treat some cancers.


Surgery removes a tumor and cancer cells from the body. Depending on your cancer and the size and location of the tumor, this may be a simple or highly complex procedure. A mastectomy, or surgical removal of the breast, is a common treatment for breast cancer. This article will walk you through the different types of mastectomies, so you and your doctor can decide what’s right for you. Minimally invasive techniques for some surgeries reduce scarring, pain and recovery times.

Ask your surgeon about his or her experience performing the surgery, whether there are minimally invasive options and the risks and benefits.

Other Treatment Options

Particular cancers may have luck with newer treatment options. This article highlights how photodynamic therapy uses light waves to kill cancer cells. This article on immunotherapy addresses another exciting treatment option. As of now, it’s only available for specific cancer types, but it uses your body’s immune system to target and kill cancer cells. UVA also offers clinical trials to learn more about exciting new technology that can help fight cancer.

It’s normal to feel worried or scared about cancer treatment, but you can get through it. Reach out to family, friends, hospital staff members and other people with cancer to build a support network.

Learn more about the specific cancer treatments offered at UVA Cancer Center and what to expect at your first visit.

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Patricia Chaney
Patricia Chaney