Cancer Treatment Options in Canada

 

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Are you or a loved one suffering with cancer? If you’ve recently been diagnosed, what you need to do first is to start a good habit of recording, tracking, and requesting copies of all the necessary information, as well as your results. Immersing yourself into cancer vocabulary and in various medical appointments and procedures can be quite overwhelming, but you need to stay confident and in control.

If you have cancer, you will be provided with a treatment plan that’s tailored just for you. A team of healthcare providers will be on your side and tell you about your treatment options, and will guide you in making the right decisions. Still, the decisions are yours to make.

Working together with your healthcare providers in order to come up with an overall treatment plan that combines different types of treatments is called a multidisciplinary team.

For some patients, however, trying to decide the right treatment direction to take can be just as overwhelming. Healthcare providers will consider many things before they recommend a treatment plan, including:

  • the type of cancer;
  • the stage of cancer or how far the disease has progressed;
  • the scientific evidence that the treatment works for your type of cancer;
  • the possible side effects of the treatment;
  • the patient’s personal choices or preferences;
  • the patient’s age and overall health; and
  • other medical problems the patient may have

 

Different Types of Treatment for Cancer

If you are in Canada, there are many options for you to consider in your treatment plan. As mentioned earlier, your healthcare providers will be there to help you make the right decisions.

Oftentimes, there is more than one treatment used for cancer patients. This is because treatments damage healthy cells besides cancer cells. Side effects are also common.

The most common options include, but are not limited to chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy.

With a proper treatment plan, many cancers can be cured. However, if you have advanced/late-stage cancer and a cure is unlikely, palliative care can help relieve symptoms and will make the patient feel comfortable.

 

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill, slow, or even stop the growth of cancer cells. These drugs are also called cytotoxics, meaning “poisonous to cells”. Many cytotoxics are derived from natural sources like plants, while others are developed in a laboratory.

There are many different types of cytotoxics, some of which are used in different combinations and at different strengths. Most chemotherapy drugs are administered through the bloodstream, traveling throughout the body to reach cancer cells in different tissues and organs. Some drugs, however, are delivered directly into a tumour instead of the bloodstream. Some examples are chemotherapy wafers for brain cancer and chemoembolization for liver cancer.

As mentioned earlier, chemotherapy drugs are poisonous to cells, targeting and injuring rapidly dividing cells. Because of this, they’re not cancer-specific, and so they affect both cancer cells and some normal cells. When normal cells in the body are damaged, it causes side effects. But since chemotherapy is localized, side effects are less common.

 

Radiotherapy

Radiation therapy (or simply radiotherapy) is the use of high-energy radiation, like x-rays, gamma rays, electron beams or protons, for damaging or killing cancer cells, and for stopping cancer cells from growing and multiplying. The high doses of radiation induces “apoptosis”, a form of cell death wherein a programmed chain of events leads to the destruction of cells without releasing harmful substances into the surrounding area. Radiotherapy is a localized treatment so it generally only affects the part of the body where the radiation is directed.

In some cases, radiation can also damage normal cells. However, normal cells usually repair themselves. During this process, the patient may experience some side effects, depending on the part of the body being treated.

 

Surgery

Surgery involves an operation. It is perhaps the oldest type of cancer treatment. It involves removing part, or all, of the tumour. It may also involve change in the organisation of the anatomy or placement of prostheses.

 

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a form of treatment that stimulates, restores, or enhances the natural ability of the patient’s immune (defence) system to fight infection and disease. In the past few years, the rapid advancement of technology and the field of cancer immunology has produced several new methods to treat cancer which increase the strength of immune responses against tumours.

 

Hormone Therapy

Some types of cancer use hormones to grow. Hormone therapy uses certain types of drugs to block the effects of these hormones.

Hormone therapy doesn’t work for all types of cancer so doctors use this type of treatment for patients that are hormone sensitive or hormone dependent.Cancers that can be hormone sensitive are breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine/endometrial cancer, prostate cancer, and kidney cancer.

 

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy is a new form of cancer treatment. Until recently, treatment of cancer was largely based on the part of the body where the tumour began, such as the breast or lung. Today, cancer treatment increasingly depends on specific factors of the patient’s tumour, like gene mutations (changes) or proteins that are only found in cancer cells, regardless of the original location of the cancer. Because targeted therapy targets proteins on the surface of cancer cells, it doesn’t damage other cells.

Targeted therapy is often used to complement chemotherapy and other cancer treatments to block the growth and spread of cancer cells. However, this type of cancer treatment is not available for all types of cancer.

 

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

If you feel like your treatment options are limited or if you need to look for additional ones, you might want to consider complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

CAM describes a diverse group of treatments, methods, and products that are not considered conventional medicine. A conventional treatment has been scientifically tested, found to be safe and efficient, and is in accordance with the Canadian Food and Drug Regulations.

Complementary medicine is generally used to complement conventional cancer treatment, a method that is often referred to as ‘integrative medicine’. Alternative medicine includes unproven treatment regimens and products used instead of conventional treatments. Some patients seek out alternative medicine after conventional therapies have failed them. CAM therapy may offer physical, emotional, and spiritual support, reduces side effects from medical treatment, and may improve quality of life.

But before considering CAM therapy, you must first consult your doctor just as you would any other treatment approach, as some CAM therapies may interfere with conventional therapies.

 

Palliative Care

Palliative care focuses on prevention, management and relief of symptoms and side effects of cancer treatment. It also provides comprehensive support to cancer patients, as well as their family, friends, and caregivers.

Anyone, regardless of age, type of cancer or stage of cancer, may receive palliative care before, during, and after cancer treatment. Discuss palliative care with your healthcare providers soon after a cancer diagnosis. This helps patients better understand their prognosis and treatment goals, clarify expectations, and maintain quality of life.

 

Clinical Trials

You can also consider participating in a clinical trial for treatment of cancer.

Clinical trials are scientific studies that test new ways of preventing, treating, or managing cancer, like developing new drugs or combining existing treatments. Those who participate in a clinical trial are closely monitored to ensure that the treatments are safe and effective. Cancer treatments that are used today were, in fact, developed and tested in various clinical trials.

You may be asked to participate in a trial by your healthcare team, or you might be informed about a trial and ask your healthcare providers about it. Make sure to understand and learn all that you can before deciding to be part of a trial. It may be a good option for one person, but may not be right for someone else.

 

Get to Know More

Everyone’s need for information is different. However, many people feel better when they can learn and understand more about cancer and their treatment options. By learning and understanding more, you can make the right decisions for your treatment plan.

If you’re looking for additional resources, you can check out the following websites:

 

The Canadian Cancer Society also has a search engine where you can quickly find cancer treatment services in your area.

Ebola Virus: What You Need to Know

 In this day and age, no other virus strikes as much fear in people as the Ebola virus, the cause of a massive fatal outbreak in West Africa.

According to a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO), there are over 21,600 confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola, commonly in countries like Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. As of January 18, 8,600 people have died. This is the largest Ebola outbreak in recorded history.

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What is Ebola?

Previously known as Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola is a serious and fatal disease transmitted by humans, non-human primates(monkeys, chimpanzees and gorillas), and fruit bats. The disease is caused by infection with one of five Ebola virus strains.

The five identified Ebola virus strains are:

  • Ebola virus (Zaire ebolavirus)
  • Sudan virus (Sudan ebolavirus)
  • Tai Forest virus (Tai Forest ebolavirus, formerly known as Côte d’Ivoire ebolavirus)
  • Bundibugyo virus (Bundibugyoebolavirus)
  • Reston virus (Reston ebolavirus)

 

The first four Ebola virus strains are known to cause disease in humans, while the fifth virus has caused disease in non-human primates.

 

The History of Ebola

Ebola was first discovered in the year 1976, near the Ebola River, in what is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then, outbreaks have sporadically appeared in Africa.

The natural reservoir host of the virus remains largely unknown. But based on evidence and the nature of similar viruses, scientists believe that the Ebola virus is animal-borne, with fruit bats being the most likely reservoir.

The Ebola virus has been around for more than three decades, but there was an outbreak in March 2014 which began in West Africa. This recent outbreak is more deadly, more severe, and widespread compared to previous outbreaks.

 

Signs and Symptoms

After the Ebola virus enters the body, it kills cells and make some of them explode. The virus destroys a person’s immune system, causing massive internal hemorrhage (bleeding inside the body), and eventually damaging almost every body organ.

The signs and symptoms of Ebola infection include:

  • Fever
  • Severe headache
  • Myalgia (muscle pain)
  • Weakness
  • Malaise
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding

 

Symptoms typically appear anywhere from 2 – 21 days after exposure to the virus, but the average is 8 – 10 days.

Recovering from Ebola infection depends entirely on patient management and supportive clinical care, as well as the patient’s immune response. Those who recover from the infection develop antibodies that last for up to 10 years, possibly longer. However, it remains unknown whether or not those who recover from the disease is immune for life or if they can become infected with a different strain of the virus.

There have been reports that some Ebola survivors have developed life-long complications like vision and joint problems.

 

How is Ebola Transmitted?

Because the natural reservoir host of Ebola viruses remains unknown, the way in which the virus first appears in a human at the beginning of an outbreak cannot be identified. However, researchers believe that the first person to be infected has had contact with an infected animal, like a primate or fruit bat. This is called a spillover event.

After the spillover event, person-to-person transmission follows suit, leading to a large number of people infected by the virus. In some previous Ebola outbreaks, primates were also affected by the virus, with multiple spillover events occurring when people ate or made contact with infected primates.

When infection occurs in humans, the Ebola virus can be spread to others through direct contact, through broken skin or mucous membranes (like in the eyes, mouth or nose), blood and bodily fluids (i.e. saliva, sweat, urine, vomit, feces, breast milk, semen) of an infected person, objects that have been contaminated with the virus (i.e. needles and syringes), as well as infected animals.

The virus is not spread through the air, by water, or in general, by food. But in Africa, the virus may be spread as a result of handling wild meat (wild animals hunted for food) and contact with infected fruit bats. Mosquitoes and other insects do not transmit Ebola virus.

Healthcare providers who care for Ebola patients, as well as family and friends who are in close contact with patients infected with Ebola are at the highest risk of getting sick. During outbreaks, the disease can quickly spread within various healthcare settings like in clinics and hospitals, especially when the staff are not wearing appropriate personal protective gear.

 

Treatment

Currently, there is no FDA-approved medicine or vaccine available to treat patients infected with Ebola. Symptoms and complications are treated as they appear. When applied early, the following basic interventions can help improve the patient’s chances of survival:

  • Providing IV (intravenous) fluids and balancing electrolytes
  • Maintaining blood pressure and oxygen status
  • Immediate treatment of other infections if they occur

There are several experimental vaccines and treatments for Ebola that are currently underway, though they have not yet been fully tested for safety and efficacy.

Recovery from this disease depends on palliative care and the patient’s immune response.

 

How Can Ebola Infections Be Prevented?

Since there is currently no vaccine or treatment for Ebola infection, what you need to do is to take the necessary precautions, especially when you are in a country where an Ebola outbreak has occurred.

 

Avoid close contact with wild animals and avoid handling bushmeat.

Avoiding potential carriers, both alive and dead, can help prevent the spread of the virus. The known carriers of the Ebola virus are:

  • Monkeys
  • Gorillas
  • Chimpanzees
  • Fruit bats
  • Pigs
  • Antelope
  • Porcupines

 

Avoid contact with blood and other bodily fluids of people infected with Ebola or those with unknown illnesses.

  • Do not handle any medical equipment contaminated with blood or other bodily fluids.
  • Practice strict control measures if you are a healthcare provider. Isolate infected persons and use personal protective gear (i.e. gowns, goggles, masks, gloves) appropriately.
  • Use and disinfect instruments and equipment properly, especially those that are used to treat or care for patients with Ebola.

 

Know the signs and symptoms and see a healthcare provider immediately should they develop.

  • During and after travelling, make sure to closely monitor your health. Seek medical attention immediately if you develop fever or any other symptoms.
  • If you develop signs and symptoms, make sure to inform your healthcare provider that you have travelled to a country or region with a case of Ebola infection.

 

If you have travelled to or are currently in a place affected by an Ebola outbreak, make sure to do the following:

  • Practice careful hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Do not handle items that may have come in contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected person (i.e. clothes, bedding, and medical equipment).
  • Avoid burial/funeral rites that require handling the body of a person who has died from Ebola.
  • Avoid close contact with bats and primates or blood, bodily fluids, and raw meat prepared from such animals.
  • Avoid healthcare facilities in West Africa where Ebola patients are being treated.
  • After you return from a region with known cases of Ebola infection, monitor your health for 21 days and seek immediate medical care if you develop signs and symptoms of Ebola.