Cancer can be difficult to treat as they can arise from any cell in the body and therefore can take any form. When cancer forms a single solid tumour or mass, surgery can be straightforward, but what about when the cancer invades around other essential tissues and organs – especially in the head and neck? Many tumours, particularly of the head and neck have previously been effectively inoperable, and so major changes in treatment approach were needed. There are targeted drugs which are designed as ‘magic bullets’ or conventional chemotherapy, but these can have variable success as well as serious side-effects. There is photodynamic therapy (PDT), but this can only work on surface tumours, such as the tongue or throat. There is conventional radiotherapy, but this again is often too inaccurate and damages surrounding tissue. In these circumstances the ideal is to map the precise location of the tumour and to then apply an appropriate level of irradiation specifically to that area – and no other area. This approach is called conformal radiotherapy.
Highly focussed radiation techniques are now available where high radiation doses can be applied with minimal damage to surrounding tissues. The most exciting developments have been seen with the very latest treatment modalities such as Gamma Knife and Cyberknife. Up until very recently, the alternative treatment options have been associated with highly unpleasant side-effects and had often questionable success rates. It appears that these more traditional treatment methods will rapidly become outmoded.
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