Medical Oncology Services
What is Medical Oncology? (only at Shenton House, Joondalup)
Medical oncology, like radiation oncology, is vital to the management of cancer.
Medical oncology is the speciality that uses chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapy to manage rapidly growing malignant (cancer) cells in the body. We often colloquially use the word ‘chemotherapy’ to describe all three treatments.
The most common administration method of these treatments is intravenously (via a drip into a vein), but some are taken orally as tablets or capsules. Other methods of administration also exist but are used less commonly.
Chemotherapy is one of the most prescribed treatments in the field of medical oncology and it is often associated with hair loss. This is because chemotherapy affects all rapidly dividing cells in the body, not just those that are dividing rapidly due to cancer. The degree of hair loss varies between patients and treatment regimens.
Chemotherapy can be used in different ways:
- as the only form of treatment
- together with radiotherapy (often abbreviated as ‘chemo-rads’)
- before surgery to shrink the tumour (called ‘neo-adjuvant’ chemotherapy)
- after surgery to kill off any remaining cancer cells (called ‘adjuvant’ chemotherapy)
- together with targeted therapy and/or hormonal therapy
The treating medical oncologist will decide how and when treatment should be administered to provide the best outcome.
Hormonal therapy is used to treat cancers that are sensitive to our body’s hormones. While many different mechanisms are at play, some ‘hormone sensitive cancers’ derive much of their ability to grow and divide through the presence of natural hormones in our body, such as oestrogen and testosterone. Hormonal therapy is most commonly used to treat prostate and some breast cancers or other gynaecological cancers, and may be used with other treatments such as chemotherapy, targeted therapies or radiation therapy.
Targeted therapy refers to drugs that specifically target cancer cells and block the signals (specific molecules in the cancer cells) that tell them to grow. Some tumours are suitable for targeted therapies and some are not and this is determined genetically after testing a sample of the tumour. With advances in science and cancer medicine, different types of targeted therapies are now available and more and more are being discovered as we begin to better understand the mechanisms that switch cancer cells on and off.
Targeted therapies include monoclonal antibodies (also sometimes called ‘biologics’ because they are made in living cells), immunological agents, signal transduction agents, apoptosis-inducing drugs and antibody drug conjugates. Some targeted therapies are used in combination with chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy and with or without radiation therapy. Sometimes they are used by themselves.
Every person and every cancer is unique. The medical oncologist will determine which treatment or combination of treatments is best to use.