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Neoadjuvant And Adjuvant Therapies: What’s The Difference?

Typically, multidisciplinary treatment plans are needed to fight cancer. Often, there’s a primary therapy like radiation therapy used in combination with neoadjuvant and/or adjuvant therapies. As smaller portions of a treatment plan, there are often a lot of questions on what these two treatments do and what the difference is between them. We’re here to help clarify these common questions.

Adjuvant means helping or helper: it reflects the additional support both neoadjuvant and adjuvant therapies offer in addition to the primary therapy. These therapies may include hormone therapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and/or chemotherapy. These therapies are given before or after the primary treatment to decrease recurrence and increase the treatment success chances.

Neoadjuvant Therapy

Neoadjuvant therapies help reduce the size of tumors, kill cancer cells that have spread, and are given before the primary treatment.

Sometimes neoadjuvant therapy makes more sense. If surgery is recommended to remove early-stage localized cancer, to ensure the best possible result from surgery doctors usually give the patient chemotherapy 3 or 4 months prior to the surgery. Sometimes these treatments help the doctor determine the next course of action or adjust treatment according to how the patient’s body responded to the neoadjuvant approach.

Adjuvant Therapy

Adjuvant therapies are treatments used to destroy any remaining cancer cells after the primary procedure is completed.

Cancers that have a high recurrence risk or have spread further may respond best with an adjuvant treatment: to ensure cells aren’t left behind and/or to reduce the chances of more mutations.

Adjuvant therapy may be recommended based on the patient’s reaction to neoadjuvant therapy as well.

It’s good to note that both types of therapies may have some side effects like fatigue and nausea. Typically these therapies are only recommended for cancer patients that are otherwise healthy: the benefits need to outweigh the risks.

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