Combination Therapy for Cancer Treatment

Combination therapy cancer treatment

Combination therapy is a common therapy practice whereby more than one type of cancer treatment is administered to the patient. All cancers are complex in nature, and some are able to evade the effect of some treatment types or develop new ways to become resistant or otherwise combat their effect. By attacking the cancer with more than one type of therapy the ability of the cancerous cells to mount a defence is decreased making combination therapies often the most successful.

What is Combination Therapy?

Combination therapy was first actualised in 1965 as a way to treat acute lymphocytic leukaemia in which the use of a combination of therapies reduced the tumour and prolonged patient remission. In the 1970s combination therapy was found to be more successful than monotherapy for patients with lung cancer.

Combination therapies can help reduce drug resistance in cancerous cells, as well as help reduce tumour sizes and the likelihood of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body, otherwise known as metastatic potential.

Why and When is Combination Therapy Used?

The stage and type of cancer often determines whether a single or combination therapy treatment will have the most impact. The size and likelihood of the cancer returning will also be a factor in treatment decisions. Advanced cancers are often treated with combination therapy to give the patient the best chance of success.

Combination chemotherapy is often used with solid tumours such as lung cancer and breast cancer, and to treat non-solid state cancers such as various forms of leukaemia and Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Combination drug therapy may be offered to patients who have an advanced stage cancer which cannot be surgically treated in order to prolong life and quality of life as opposed to attempt to reduce or cure the cancer.

How Will My Care Team Decide What Combination of Cancer Treatments I Need?

Your care team will take all aspects of your case into account in order to suggest the best singular or combination therapy for you. They will look at the success and potential side effects of treatment options and give you advice on each option available to you.

Although combination therapy may be the most appropriate treatment path for you, getting a second opinion may help you to feel confident in your decision. A second opinion can confirm that this type of treatment is most suitable or open up new methods that you may not have considered.

OncoloMed work with a range of hospitals and can help you get a second view from a specialist. Find out more about our second opinion services or contact us to arrange one.

What Combination of Therapies May Be Typically Used?

An example of combination therapy for cancer treatment is when a patient may be offered surgery to remove the cancerous cells, followed by chemotherapy and a drug-based form of treatment. This use of other therapies post-surgery is called adjuvant therapy, meaning they are given after and in addition to the main form of therapy to maximise its impact.

Another example would be a combination of drug and radiation therapies to shrink the tumour, followed by surgery. This use of secondary therapies prior to the main treatment is called neoadjuvant therapy.

Most commonly, surgery will be combined with radiotherapy and cancer drugs to build a complete set of treatments. While surgery and radiotherapy directly treat cancers confined to a locale, while drug therapy helps deal with leftover cancerous cells.

Learn more about different cancer treatments that may be used in combination therapy.

What Are The Benefits of Combination Therapy for Cancer

As cancer cells replicate, they develop more and more mutations. This means that cells in one part of a tumour may be quite different to another, this is true for metastasis and within the original tumour. Different treatments may be more effective for one type of cell than another, meaning the use of multiple therapies increases the chances of success in eliminating or shrinking the tumour.

There are a range of other benefits associated with combination therapy including:

  • High efficacy through use of more than one form of treatment
  • May require lower doses or less toxic medication
  • Helps to minimise drug resistance
  • May reduce side effects
  • Reduces likelihood that the tumour will be resistant to any one form of treatment
  • Can help speed up treatment as more than one treatment, for example drug-based options, may be administered at the same time

By offering more than one method by which to attack the cancer there is less likelihood it will develop means to get around therapy and the body’s natural defences. This multi-pronged attack is used commonly to treat a large number of cancer types and help prolong quality of life.

Combination therapy for cancer treatment is common practice and is used in many cases with a marked improvement on mono-therapeutic treatment programs.

Side Effects of Combination Therapy

In many cases the use of combination therapy helps to reduce the often harsh side effects of any one system of treatment as lower doses of each may be required.

The side effects that you experience will vary widely depending on the combination of therapies and strength of doses you receive. You are likely to experience the side effects of each individual therapy, with common side effects including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Anaemia
  • Weight loss
  • Pain

Side effects vary from person to person regardless of they are having the same treatment as you or something different. Your care team will help and advise you on the best ways to manage any side effects which you experience from your treatment.

What to Think About When Deciding if Combination Therapy is Right for You

Combination therapy requires a number of different treatments which is likely to incur more regular visits to your hospital or treatment centre. It may require overnight stays, and the different therapies are likely to trigger different side effects which will need managing.

While combination therapy may take a higher toll on daily life for the period you are receiving treatment, it is also likely to shorten treatment time as more than one therapy can be administered at the same time.

Think about your end goals for treatment and how combination therapy for cancer fits in with your aims; for example is the end goal a cure, to control it, or give you the best quality of life for as long as possible. Take advice from a number of different sources and weigh up what form of treatment or treatments you are most comfortable with.

Make sure you understand all the possible long and short-term side effects of the range of treatments you are offered, and ask as many questions as you can. Weight up the positives and negatives of each option and speak openly to your care team about your decisions.

Nutrition & Lifestyle Advice When Having a Combination of Cancer Treatments

While receiving combination therapy to help combat cancer, your body needs support from your diet and lifestyle choices to help it fight cancer and support your immune system and overall health. Alcohol should be avoided for numerous reasons including its links to a range of cancers and a possible effect on the risk posed by cancer to those recently diagnosed.

Try to ensure you intake the recommended daily number of vitamins and minerals each day through your diet. A number of these help build cells and keep them healthy, repairing damage and preventing further issues.  Following a healthy diet that includes plenty of variety and lots of antioxidant filled fruit and vegetables is recommended.

Keep an eye of your daily fibre intake which may help reduce second cancer risk. High fibre foods include whole grains, pulses and beans or all varieties.

Make sure you take the recommended daily amount of exercise as and when you can and try to maintain a daily regular exercise regime as much as you can. If you are not up to it from your treatment, allow your body to rest and fully recover, returning to your routine when you are able.

The above is only generic guidance which is often recommended however make sure to consult with your care team to see if there are any specific foods and drink you should have or avoid. 

Explore Your Treatment Options

Combination therapy is an effective option for cancer treatment, however the most effective treatment for you will take into consideration a range of factors based on your individual situation.

OncoloMed can help you explore your options and find the right treatment by facilitating second opinions and cancer treatment through our network of leading clinics and oncologists.

See how we can compassionately guide you in your cancer treatment journey by exploring our range of services. Alternatively, read our patient stories to see how we have supported and guided over 500+ patients across the globe in their fight against cancer.

Combination therapy cancer treatment
Cancer patient smiling with her husband, walking along a beach

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