Treatments

Medical oncology

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) patients receive medical oncology treatment from leading physicians who specialize in particular cancers and are experts in their field. They design individualized treatment plans to target your tumor and minimize the effects on healthy tissue. Your team also works closely with you to manage any side effects and help you take the best possible care of yourself during treatment.

SCCA patients may receive treatment from a medical oncologist at either SCCA on Lake Union, SCCA at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland, or SCCA Medical Oncology at UWMC-Northwest. These facilities feature state-of-the-art equipment, comfortable facilities, and conscientious providers to make your treatment experience the best it can be.

Medical oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer in adults using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and targeted therapy. A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer in adults using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and targeted therapy. A medical oncologist is often the main health care provider for someone who has cancer. A medical oncologist also gives supportive care and may coordinate treatment given by other specialists. Side effects A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some side effects of cancer treatment are nausea, vomiting, fatigue, pain, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss and mouth sores.

Diseases treated

People with cancer may receive treatment from a medical oncologist, who uses chemotherapy, targeted or biologic therapies, hormonal therapies, or other chemical agents to cure, stop, or slow the cancer; to reduce the risk that it will come back; or to relieve symptoms caused by tumors.

Medical oncologists treat the primary site of some kinds of cancer, such as breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancers, and those that have metastasized to secondary locations including to the bones, brain, and other organs.

To find out more about the use of medical oncology therapies used to treat various kinds of cancer, learn more within a specific disease section.

Diseases We Treat

Facts

Medical oncology is a subspecialty of internal medicine that cares for and designs treatment approaches for cancer using drugs to stop the natural progression of disease and favorably influence the patient’s quality of life.

The medical oncologist is a specialist who works to fine-tune the maximum dose of drugs to achieve the most beneficial therapeutic effect. They also work in close conjunction with surgical and radiation oncologists, pathologists, and radiologists.

Drug therapy may be used to treat active, clinically apparent cancer and can be used as a sole treatment or as an “adjuvant” (in addition) to surgery and/or radiation therapy to eliminate disease not easily detected for early stage cancers.

There are three main types of drug therapy for cancer:

  • Conventional chemotherapy. Targets cells within the tumor that are dividing rapidly. They may interfere with DNA structure or cell division.
  • Targeted or biologic therapies. Molecules such as antibodies, cytokines, and kinase inhibitors that are designed to attack vulnerabilities relatively unique only to the cancer cells compared to the rest of the body. For some medicines of this type, the immune system may be ‘assisted’ to better hunt down and eliminate the cancer.
  • Hormonal therapies. Capitalizes on the pathways of estrogen and androgen function in people with breast, prostate, uterus, and ovarian cancers.
Antibody A protein made by immune system cells and released into the blood. Antibodies defend the body against foreign substances, such as bacteria. Chemotherapy Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It may be given alone or with other treatments. Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy or biologic therapy. Medical oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer in adults using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and targeted therapy. A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer in adults using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and targeted therapy. A medical oncologist is often the main health care provider for someone who has cancer. A medical oncologist also gives supportive care and may coordinate treatment given by other specialists. Oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment, such as treating cancer with radiation. A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment. For example, a radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation. Pathologist A physician who has special training in identifying diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope. Progression In medicine, the course of a disease, such as cancer, as it becomes worse or spreads in the body. Radiation oncologist A physician who has special training in using radiation to treat cancer. Radiation therapy The use of high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body. Radiologist A physician who has special training in creating and interpreting pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are made with X-rays, sound waves or other types of energy. Stage The extent of a cancer in the body. Staging is usually based on the size of the tumor, whether lymph nodes contain cancer and whether the cancer has spread from the original site to other parts of the body. Symptom A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. Some examples of symptoms are headache, fatigue, nausea and pain.

Your visits

When you see your medical oncologist at SCCA, you will likely receive a treatment plan that involves some form of systemic drug therapy. Systemic treatment means that the drugs administered will travel throughout the body and destroy cancer cells wherever in the body they may be.

More than half of the people diagnosed with cancer receive some form of drug therapy. Chemotherapy medications can be administered intravenously or orally.  At the SCCA clinic on Lake Union, chemotherapy treatments are given in the infusion suite on the fifth floor.

Port placement

Many people who are undergoing chemotherapy choose to have a portacath, or port. It’s a small medical device implanted beneath the skin, typically in the chest just below the collarbone. A tube (catheter) connects the port to a vein. Drugs can be infused into the bloodstream through the port, and blood samples can be drawn out through the port many times, usually with less discomfort for patients than regular needle sticks. A port is temporary; it can be taken out after treatment ends.

Chemotherapy Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It may be given alone or with other treatments. Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy or biologic therapy. Infusion An injection of medications or fluids into a vein over a period of time. Medical oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer in adults using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and targeted therapy. A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer in adults using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and targeted therapy. A medical oncologist is often the main health care provider for someone who has cancer. A medical oncologist also gives supportive care and may coordinate treatment given by other specialists. Treatment plan A detailed plan with information about a patient’s disease, the goal of treatment, the treatment options for the disease and the possible side effects and expected length of treatment. A detailed plan with information about a patient’s disease, the goal of treatment, the treatment options for the disease and the possible side effects and expected length of treatment. A treatment plan may also include information about how much the treatment is likely to cost and about regular follow-up care after treatment ends.

Taking care of yourself during treatment

Each patient’s treatment experience is different. Most patients experience some, but not all, symptoms. The information in this section is offered as a resource for patients and family members. Please talk with your nurse or physician about specific concerns.

Nutrition
Nutrition

Our dieticians have specialized training and knowledge about nutrition for cancer prevention, treatment and survivorship. They work together with each patient's care team.

Palliative care
Palliative care

Supportive and palliative care is here to prevent and relieve suffering and to support the best possible quality of life for patients and their families, regardless of the stage of their disease.