What’s the difference: Adjuvant and Neoadjuvant Therapies


Fighting cancer often entails a combination of various treatment methods. Treatment options typically involve a primary therapy, such as radiation therapy or surgery, in addition to the neoadjuvant or adjuvant therapy.

However, most patients have no idea what these latter terminologies mean or the purposes they serve. Generally, they’re therapies, like hormone therapy or chemotherapy, rendered after or before the primary treatment. Their purpose is to increase the success of the treatment or lower the risk of cancer’s recurrence.

Adjuvant and neoadjuvant therapies are usually used to treat lung, colon and breast cancers, and may include radiation therapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.

The difference between these two therapies is when they’re given and why. Neoadjuvant therapies are administered prior to the main treatment, and their purpose is to reduce the tumor size or kill the cancer cells that might have spread. On the other hand, adjuvant therapies are provided after a primary cancer treatment, and they’re aimed at destroying the remaining cancer cells.

Typically, adjuvant and neoadjuvant therapies may be recommended when someone with early-stage cancer goes through radiation therapy or surgery and the doctor believes the patient may benefit from extra systemic treatments – treatments that affects the whole body.

The two therapies benefit most, but not all cancer patients. The stage and type of the patient’s cancer may dictate whether she or he qualifies for extra treatment. For instance, if after surgery, the oncologist establishes that cancer has spread to many lymph nodes, there’s a risk of cancer cells remaining in the body, and in that case, adjuvant therapy comes in handy.

Besides, since some cancers originate from mutations with a high recurrence risk, adjuvant therapy may be beneficial to patients with such cancers more than patients with cancers that have a reduce recurrence risk.

Oncologists may use neoadjuvant therapy to find out how a patient responds to treatment. If, prior to surgery, the tumor shows a positive response to chemotherapy, it means that the patient is likely to recover. Therefore, the doctor may choose to adjust the treatment accordingly.

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