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 four 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.