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How is cancer treated?

Each type of cancer is different. The way cancer is treated is based on the cancer type as well as details about your health. These details include:

  • Your cancer type, size and where the cancer is in your body
  • If your cancer is in one spot or if it has spread
  • Your age and how healthy you are
  • If it is best to:
    • Remove the cancer
    • Slow the growth of the cancer
    • Manage symptoms of the cancer

3 Main Types of Cancer Treatment

  1. Systemic Therapy: Systemic therapy is a medicine that travels through your body to treat cancer cells wherever they are. Systemic therapies include:
    • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses different kinds of medicines to kill cancer cells.
    • Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy is a way to slow down the growth of your cancer. A hormone is a chemical in your body that helps different parts of your body know how to work or grow.
    • Targeted cancer therapy: Targeted cancer therapies use medicine to block the specific molecules that help cancer cells grow and spread.
    • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy uses your immune system to find and kill cancer cells.
    • Biological therapy: A biological therapy is a medicine that is most often made by living cells, instead of chemical processes. Biological therapies are used to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
  2. Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy, also called radiation treatment, uses high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells.
  3. Surgery: Surgery is a type of treatment in which an area of the body is cut open to remove cancer.

For some types of cancer, people may get 1 or 2 types of treatment or all 3 types of treatments. Ask your cancer care team to explain details about your treatment plan.


What is chemotherapy?
How does chemotherapy work?
What side effects might I have?

Radiation Therapy

What is radiation therapy?
How will I get radiation therapy?
What side effects might I have?


If you will be getting surgery as part of your cancer treatment, UHN has created the My Surgery Guide to help you prepare for your surgery at UHN. You can also download the My Surgery @ UHN mobile app on the App Store or Google Play Store. To learn more about surgery at UHN, see the information below or visit Surgery at UHN.

What is surgery?
Preventing cancer
Diagnosing cancer
Staging cancer
Treating cancer
What side effects might I have?

Complementary Therapies

What are complementary therapies?
What about alternative therapies?

Clinical Trials

What are clinical trials?
​How can I find a trial that is right for me?
Last reviewed: 5/5/2022
Last modified: 1/23/2024 10:51 AM
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