The dictionary meaning of adjuvant means, which serves to help or assist or which is auxiliary. In medical terms an adjuvant agent is something that helps the main prescription drug become more efficacious.
Sometimes an adjuvant may also be added to a vaccine to make it more effective. It makes the immune response of the person stronger.
When one is talking about Adjuvant Therapy, it is generally a reference to Adjuvant Cancer Therapy; which is a number of different therapies such as prescription drugs, radiation, chemotherapy or supplemental therapy that follows cancer surgery in order that the cancer may not return.
Adjuvant therapy refers to a bundle of therapies that aim to prevent a cancer from reoccurring.
It is generally observed that surgery is the most effective treatment for cancer.
It means the physical removal of cancer cells from the body by virtue of removing the tumor while making sure that there are no adverse effects or side effects on the cancer sufferer.
However, this is not proof against the cancer returning. Surgery also may not be fully effective for cancer that has spread to other sites in the body; of which has metastasized.
Here adjuvant therapy performs the function of removing those cancer cells that cannot be removed by surgery. Adjuvant Therapy can take many different forms in oncology such as:
- Chemotherapy is one of the main adjuvant therapies that are used for cancer treatment, though it could also be the principle therapy. Chemotherapy kills any rapidly growing or multiplying cells, as cancer cells usually do. However, chemo is not effective against all kinds of cancer and side effects may be mild to very severe.
- Another adjuvant therapy frequently used for treating cancers is hormone therapy. Some cancers depend on the body’s hormones of growth. But controlling production of the hormone or limiting their access to the cancer, stops the cancer from growing. Cancers of the breast, ovaries, uterus or prostate may often benefit from this adjuvant therapy.
- Radiation therapy which is the use of X rays to kill cancer cells is sometimes prescribed as an adjuvant therapy and sometimes as the principal therapy. This is also not without side effects
- Immunotherapy is another kind of therapy which tries to trigger the body’s immune response to the cancer cells.
There are certain classifications of adjuvant therapy based on other criteria as well:
- Neoadjuvant therapy is, unlike other adjuvant therapies, used before the main treatment. For instance, systemic therapy is usually administered before performing a mastectomy (surgery to remove the breast) in the case of breast surgery. Also this therapy is preferred in the case of rectal cancer. Sometimes Neoadjuvant therapy is used in order to shrink the tumor to make it easier to remove surgically.
- Adjuvant therapy could also be concomitant or concurrent, wherein certain medical treatments are given in combination with other therapies; radiation for instance.
Before initiating adjuvant therapy, it is always important to consider the question of side effects prior to commencing.