Cancer Treatment at Group Health
At Group Health, we keep up with the rapid changes in cancer treatment to offer chemotherapy that's easier to tolerate, radiation targeted to the cancer growth, and surgery that is less invasive. We consistently review the latest research findings to make sure our treatments are the most effective.
Across the state, our cancer teams treat thousands of patients per year, and our doctors have more than four decades of experience.
Teamwork defines our approach at Group Health Medical Centers. Everyone on the clinical team — from your surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, clinical pharmacist, nurse, nutritionist, and many others — has access to the same electronic medical records.
They know your latest treatment, procedure, and test results without having to wait for another doctor to send it. Which means your care will be coordinated and well-managed.
In addition to providing cancer care at Group Health Medical Centers, our providers also have established relationships at one of Group Health's affiliated hospitals.
Each cancer and each patient is different. Your doctor is there to guide you through your treatment choices and treatment. Many patients are worried and anxious before their treatment begins, but find they can manage it better than they expected.
Group Health is committed to providing proven treatments — shown to be effective through the latest scientific studies and our clinical experience.
We also work with research organizations such as the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance to study new cancer treatments. Your doctor will let you know if there's a study (called a clinical trial) available for your situation and talk to you about the pros and cons.
Whether or not you join a clinical trial, your cancer care may include one or more of the following treatment approaches:
Surgery can be used to diagnose the type of cancer and its stage (how big it is and if it has spread). Surgery can also be used to remove a cancer tumor and, if needed, surrounding tissue or an organ. Surgery can be effective in removing cancer before it has spread to other parts of the body — depending on the type of cancer and its stage. For some patients, radiation and/or chemotherapy might happen before or after surgery.
Chemotherapy drugs destroy cancer cells, those at the tumor site and those that may have traveled through the body. Sometimes chemotherapy is used before surgery or radiation to shrink a tumor. It's also used after surgery or radiation to destroy any cancer cells that may remain.
Chemotherapy drugs enter the bloodstream and can also harm healthy cells that — like cancer cells — divide quickly. For example, these healthy and quickly dividing cells are in your mouth, intestine, and skin. They are also the cells that cause your hair to grow.
That's why common side effects from chemotherapy include a sore mouth, diarrhea, nausea, and hair loss. Your cancer team will help you manage any side effects. These problems usually go away when you're finished with chemotherapy treatment.
Patients can receive chemotherapy either by getting a shot into the muscle or under the skin; intravenous IV (through a needle directly into a vein); or by mouth in pill, capsule, or liquid form.
Patients usually get chemotherapy in cycles, which means a number of treatment sessions and then a period of rest. You might have chemotherapy several times in one week, and then no treatments for a few weeks. This gives your body a chance to build new healthy cells to replace those damaged by the cancer drugs.
About half of all cancer patients have some type of radiation therapy during their treatment, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Radiation is used to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. Radiation may come from a machine that precisely focuses the radiation beam on the cancer area. Or radioactive material may be placed inside the body near the tumor cells or injected into the bloodstream.
The radiation dose and number of radiation treatments depends on the type of cancer, its size, a patient's age and general health, and location of the cancer in the patient's body. The radiation oncologist (a doctor who specializes in treating cancer cells with radiation) works closely with the patient and the patient's care team to create a treatment plan that is best for each patient.
Group Health has the latest radiation equipment, including a Varian Clinac iX (linear accelerator) located on the Capitol Hill Campus in Seattle. This system integrates a CT scanner to pinpoint tumors and a computer program to regulate a precise path of cancer-killing radiation — keeping the normal surrounding cells as healthy as possible.
This equipment allows a patient to spend less time in each session. A treatment that once took half an hour now may last only a few minutes.
Our affiliated hospitals and contracted radiation therapy providers have the same or equivalent equipment, so our patients have the benefit of the latest technology.
Common side effects from radiation therapy include fatigue, skin problems, and loss of appetite. Other possible side effects are hair loss and sensitivity to viruses and bacteria because of fewer white blood cells. Ask your doctor what side effects are expected with your treatment, and how you might avoid or manage them.
There are other kinds of treatments that can stop the growth of cancer using medicine or the immune system. Still other treatments replace or repair cells or tissue. For some types of cancer, patients might get these treatments along with chemotherapy or radiation.
Because a cancer diagnosis can create anxiety, people often look for information about additional experimental treatments. They might talk to friends, family members, or search the Internet. Talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns, including those about additional experimental treatments you hear or read about.
Access to New Treatments Through Clinical Trials
Clinical cancer trials offer patients a chance to take part in a research study that tests new treatments for drugs and other therapies. If you’d like more information about taking part in a clinical trial, talk to your doctor about the study requirements as well as the pros and cons.