How is cancer treated?

Some cancer treatments treat a particular area of the body. These are called localised treatments.

  • Surgery. An operation to remove the tumour is the main treatment for many types of cancer. It is usually used for cancers that are in one area of the body.
  • Radiotherapy. High energy x-rays are used to destroy the cancer cells. By targeting the area affected by cancer, there is as little harm as possible to the normal cells.

Other treatments treat the whole body. These are called systemic treatments.

  • Chemotherapy. This uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. There are many different chemotherapy drugs. Which you are given depends on the type of cancer you have.
  • Hormonal therapy. These therapies reduce the level of hormones in the body or block the hormones from reaching cancer cells. This can stop the cancer growing.
  • Targeted therapies. These destroy cancer cells, usually by interfering with the cancer’s ability to grow or survive.

It’s quite common for a combination of these treatments to be used. Many of these can cause side-effects. You may find our information on making treatment decisions helpful.

We also have further information about types of cancer treatment and understanding your diagnosis.

You can find the most relevant information by selecting a cancer type using the options at the top of this page or by browsing the full list of cancer types.

Back to Understanding

Understanding

what cancer is

What is cancer?

There are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, each with its own name and treatment.

Cancer and cell types

Cancers are grouped into types. Types of cancer often behave and respond to treatments in different ways.

Why do cancers come back?

Sometimes, tiny cancer cells are left behind after cancer treatment. These can divide to form a new tumour.