Breast Cancer Treatment

Surgery is the mainstay of treatments available for breast cancer. The type of surgery used depends on the size and location of the tumor, the type of tumor and the persons wishes and overall health. It is now possible for breast-sparing surgery in many cases. And if breast surgery is needed, breast reconstruction is an option taken by many women.

Lumpectomy

This involves the removal of the cancerous tissue that is cancerous and the surrounding area. The lymph nodes in the armpit are generally sampled at the same time. This is just about always done along with other therapies such as radiation therapy or with chemotherapy or hormonal therapy. Lumpectomy is usually performed when the surgeon is convinced there has been no spread of the cancer cells.

Mastectomy

A simple mastectomy consists of the removal of the entire breast. If the cancer is found to be invasive, this type of surgery alone will not be successful in curing it. This is a common surgical treatment for non-invasive types of breast cancer. Radiation treatment or chemotherapy is usually given in conjunction with this treatment.

Radical modified mastectomy removes the breast and the underarm (axillary) lymph nodes although it does not remove the underlying muscle in the chest wall. Surgery alone is usually considered adequate to control the breast cancer if it has not metastasized although addition chemotherapy or hormonal therapy is offered on most occasions.

Those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer will be required to undergo follow up care for the rest of their life. The initial following up treatment is usually every 3-6 months during the first 2-3 years. This often involved a careful examination of the breast, an annual mammography, blood tests and on some occasions, chest x-rays. Other tests such as bone and CT scans are performed when needed.

Although surgery is the most effective (and hence, the most widely used) breast cancer treatment method, there are several other ways of dealing with the disease, some more powerful than the others. These include radiation therapy, chemotherapy or hormonal therapy, each of them with their own assets and downsides.

Most of them however are used in combination with surgery for best effects, either prior to it, in order to reduce the size of the tumor, or after the operation, in order to remove any remaining cancerous cells. For a better understanding of these alternative breast cancer treatment methods, well take a closer look at each, explaining how they work and in what cases they might prove useful.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses powerful gamma rays (x-rays) which target the specific area that needs to be treated with high accuracy. Usually, radiation therapy is performed after surgery, in order to destroy any cancer cells that have not been removed or the ones that formed up where the tumor was removed from. Although it cant be used as a treatment on its own, radiation therapy is one of the most popular post-surgery methods of breast conserving therapy (BCT) and has a high chance of stopping the cancer from recurring.

As with all treatments involving x-rays, there are some downsides to radiation therapy. First of all, in order to destroy the cancerous cells that might have formed (or remained) in the area where the tumor was removed from, the x-rays will eventually damage some of the healthy tissue too.

Although the process is highly accurate, the rays cannot make a distinction between cancerous and normal cells, so they “burn” them together. The good news is that the healthy tissue will repair itself after a short while, whereas the cancerous cells will be permanently destroyed.

Some other side effects of radiation therapy include a slight irritation and reddening of the skin, mild swellings in the treatment area, muscle stiffness and changes in size of the treated breast.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a great treatment method to use both prior and after surgery. With the help of this method, you can virtually shrink the cancerous tumor before the actual surgery, making it easier and less complicated to remove. In addition, chemotherapy is used in the same sense as radiation therapy after the surgical intervention, in order to stop the diseased cells to recur.

As the name suggests, chemotherapy uses chemicals in both the above-mentioned processes. However, there are several chemical regimens that are used in the process, depending on a wide array of factors and conditions such as the character and size of the tumor, the health and age of the patient, lymph node condition and several others.

Some of the most widely used regimens in todays chemotherapy treatments include CMF (cyclophosphamide methotrexate fluorouracil), FAC (fluorouracil doxorubicin – cyclophosphamide) TAC (docetaxel doxorubicin cyclophosphamide) or AC (doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide).

Hormonal Treatment

Hormonal treatments are usually combined with chemotherapy with the purpose of balancing the estrogen levels of a woman, in order to either block estrogen from being received by the breast cancer cells or to lower the overall amount of the hormone in the system.