The two key determinants of outcomes of cancer therapy are the BODY ORGAN which is involved and the STAGE at which it is detected in the patient.
Cancers are basically divided into solid organ cancers and hematological (blood and lymphatic system) cancers. The survival of a patient differs depending where it affects, thyroid/brain/lung/kidney/gallbladder/intestine/bones/blood etc.. Most of the solid organ cancers which have not metastasized (spread to other parts of the body) are treated with surgery, sometimes with radiation and many times with a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Meanwhile, chemotherapy is the mainstay of treatment in hematological cancers, occasionally supplemented by radiotherapy and very rarely with surgery.
KNOW WHICH BODY PART HAS BEEN AFFECTED BY CANCER.
Solid organ cancers are usually categorized into four stages with stage one being the earliest and stage four being the last stage where patients are not expected to live long and usually have a tumultuous few months to live. In well-developed nations, due to better education, awareness ,and access to good healthcare facilities, cancers are detected in an early stage whereas, in underdeveloped countries and underprivileged socioeconomic groups, cancers are usually detected in late stages leading to poor outcomes.
KNOW THE STAGE OF CANCER.
It is difficult to predict the outcome of treatment for cancer. For example, a variant of thyroid cancer called papillary cancer has very good treatment outcome and most of these patients live a normal and uncomplicated life. The same is the case with early stage breast cancer. Whereas, lung cancers are usually detected in a late stage and many patients succumb to it within a few months of diagnosis. The treatment of blood cancers is usually prolonged and requires multiple cycles of chemotherapy, complicated bone marrow, and stem cell transplants, immuno-suppression related complications, high cost, etc., which makes treating these patients a challenge.
EACH CANCER IS UNIQUE.
Cancer patients need to be evaluated with multiple tests initially to accurately diagnose and predict the stage of cancer which often takes a few days to a couple of weeks during which period the patients and their relatives experience a lot of anxiety. The exact identification of site, variant, and the stage is key to chalk out the appropriate treatment plan. This is best achieved in experienced cancer centers with trained and experienced group of oncologists who hold tumor-board discussions before finalizing treatment plans. Cancer specialists gain experience over time and are able to predict and treat better. HAVE PATIENCE. DO NOT PANIC DURING THIS INITIAL EVALUATION PERIOD.
So, it is important NOT to generalize all cancers and to treat each patient as unique and advise as per that specific patient’s condition. This is called “personalized treatment”.