How is cancer treated?

There are many different treatments for cancer. Your cancer doctor or nurse will talk to you about these treatments and how they may affect you. Treatment aims to remove or destroy all the cancer cells. If this is not possible, you may have treatment to try and control the cancer and help with any symptoms.

Your cancer doctor will talk to you about possible side effects of treatment and how these can be managed. This can help you to make decisions about treatment. If there is anything you do not understand, ask your cancer doctor or nurse to explain it again. You may find our information on making treatment decisions helpful.

People with the same cancer may have different treatments. The treatment you have usually depends on:

  • where in the body the cancer started (the primary cancer)
  • the size of the cancer and whether it has spread (the stage)
  • how fast the cancer is growing (the grade)
  • the type of cancer cells in the tumour
  • any symptoms you may have from the cancer
  • your wishes and preferences
  • your general health.

Sometimes, you may have more than one treatment. This is to make treatments work better and reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

Types of cancer treatment

Some cancer treatments target one area of the body. These are called localised treatments. They include:

  • surgery – this involves removing all, or part of the cancer with an operation
  • radiotherapy – this uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells in one area, and can be given both externally and internally.

Other treatments can reach cancer cells anywhere in the body. These are called systemic treatments. They include:

  • chemotherapy – this uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells
  • hormonal therapy – this affects hormones in the body and can slow or stop the cancer growing
  • targeted therapies – these destroy cancer cells by interfering with the way they grow and divide
  • immunotherapy – this uses the immune system to find and destroy cancer cells.

Some treatments for cancers such as myeloma and lymphoma involve having stem cell and bone marrow transplants. These are given with high-dose chemotherapy and sometimes radiotherapy, to treat and control the cancer.

Some people may have supportive treatments as part of their main cancer treatment. These can help control symptoms of the cancer and improve any side effects of treatment.

We have more information about types of cancer treatment and understanding your diagnosis. You can also find more information by selecting a cancer type using the options at the top of this page. Or you can browse the full list of cancer types.

Cancer research trials try to find new and better treatments for cancer. Trials that are carried out on patients are called clinical trials. Your cancer doctor or nurse can talk to you about clinical trials that may be suitable for you.

Back to Understanding

What is cancer?

There are more than 200 different types of cancer. Each type has 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 and grow to form a cancer.