Treatment types

Cancer can be treated in a number of ways. Surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapies and radiation therapy, are the main treatment types.  

These treatments may be used on their own or in combination, for example, you may have surgery followed by radiation therapy or chemotherapy.  

Palliative care (specialist pain and symptom management) is often an important part of treatment, sometimes introduced right at the beginning of treatment, other times later in a person’s cancer pathway.  

Palliative care is important whether a person’s cancer can be cured, or when the aim of treatment is to slow the disease and maximise quality of life.  

For older adults, cancer may be one of several illnesses being experienced at the same time. This can make managing symptoms and side-effects of cancer treatment challenging. When this happens, including palliative care clinicians as a part of treatment team helps deliver the best care possible. 

The following Cancer Council information provides a summary of the main types of treatment. You can also call Cancer Council on 13 11 20 for free information and advice about different cancer types and their treatments. 

Types of cancer treatments


An operation to remove cancer and/or repair a part of the body affected by cancer.

Drug therapies

Drugs that are delivered into the bloodstream so the treatment can travel throughout the body. This is called systemic treatment, and includes:

  • chemotherapy – the use of drugs to kill cancer cells or slow their growth
  • hormone therapy – treatment that blocks the effects of the body’s natural hormones on some types of cancer
  • immunotherapy – treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer
  • targeted therapy – the use of drugs to attack specific features of cancer cells to stop the cancer growing or spreading.

Radiation therapy

The use of targeted radiation to kill or damage cancer cells so they cannot grow, multiply or spread. Treatment aims to only affect the part of the body where the radiation is targeted.