People with cancer may receive treatment from a medical oncologist, who uses chemotherapy, targeted or biologic therapies, hormonal therapies, or other chemical agents to cure, stop, or slow the cancer; to reduce the risk that it will come back; or to relieve symptoms caused by tumors.
Medical oncologists treat the primary site of some kinds of cancer, such as breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancers, and those that have metastasized to secondary locations including to the bones, brain, and other organs.
To find out more about the use of medical oncology therapies used to treat various kinds of cancer, learn more within a specific disease section.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center patients receive medical oncology treatment from leading physicians who specialize in particular cancers and are experts in their field.
They design individualized treatment plans to target your tumor and minimize the effects on healthy tissue. Your team also works closely with you to manage any side effects and help you take the best possible care of yourself during treatment.
Fred Hutch patients may receive treatment from a medical oncologist at South Lake Union clinic, Fred Hutch at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland, or Fred Hutch at UW Medical Center – Northwest, Issaquah clinic or Peninsula clinic. These facilities feature state-of-the-art equipment, comfortable facilities, and conscientious providers to make your treatment experience the best it can be.
Medical oncology is a subspecialty of internal medicine that cares for and designs treatment approaches for cancer using drugs to stop the natural progression of disease and favorably influence the patient’s quality of life.
The medical oncologist is a specialist who works to fine-tune the maximum dose of drugs to achieve the most beneficial therapeutic effect. They also work in close conjunction with surgical and radiation oncologists, pathologists, and radiologists.
Drug therapy may be used to treat active, clinically apparent cancer and can be used as a sole treatment or as an “adjuvant” (in addition) to surgery and/or radiation therapy to eliminate disease not easily detected for early stage cancers.
There are three main types of drug therapy for cancer:
Targets cells within the tumor that are dividing rapidly. They may interfere with DNA structure or cell division.
Molecules such as antibodies, cytokines, and kinase inhibitors that are designed to attack vulnerabilities relatively unique only to the cancer cells compared to the rest of the body. For some medicines of this type, the immune system may be ‘assisted’ to better hunt down and eliminate the cancer.
Capitalizes on the pathways of estrogen and androgen function in people with breast, prostate, uterus, and ovarian cancers.
When you see your medical oncologist at Fred Hutch, you will likely receive a treatment plan that involves some form of systemic drug therapy. Systemic treatment means that the drugs administered will travel throughout the body and destroy cancer cells wherever in the body they may be.
More than half of the people diagnosed with cancer receive some form of drug therapy. Chemotherapy medications can be administered intravenously or orally. At the South Lake Union clinic, chemotherapy treatments are given in the infusion suite on the fifth floor.
Many people who are undergoing chemotherapy choose to have a portacath, or port. It’s a small medical device implanted beneath the skin, typically in the chest just below the collarbone. A tube (catheter) connects the port to a vein. Drugs can be infused into the bloodstream through the port, and blood samples can be drawn out through the port many times, usually with less discomfort for patients than regular needle sticks. A port is temporary; it can be taken out after treatment ends.
Each patient’s treatment experience is different. Most patients experience some, but not all, symptoms. The information in this section is offered as a resource for patients and family members. Please talk with your nurse or physician about specific concerns.