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Breast Cancer Treatments

The treatments available for breast cancer come in a variety of forms and are administered in an array of different ways.  There are six types of standard breast cancer treatment in use, not including those currently undergoing clinical trial testing.  Part of the course of treatment may involve the prevention of the malignancy from metastasizing, targeting any metastases and treating health problems that may be present in conjunction with or as a result of the cancer.

SURGERY

Surgery is performed on most breast cancer patients in order to remove the malignant tumor from the breast tissue.  It is a general practice to form a second incision and remove some lymph nodes from the armpit area to be biopsied for any cancerous cells that would have metastasized from the breast, a process known as lymph node dissection.  Now with breast-conserving surgeries, surgeons are able to remove the cancer cells without having to remove the breast as well.

The following are the types of breast-conserving surgeries:

  • Lumpectomy – tumor and some normal surrounding tissue are removed
  • Partial mastectomy – the part of the breast with the tumor are removed along with some normal surrounding tissue
  • Segmental mastectomy – a partial mastectomy in addition to the removal of tissue that is lining the chest muscles below the cancer in the breast
  • Total (simple) mastectomy – removal of the whole breast that contains cancerous cells
  • Modified radical mastectomy – removal of the whole breast that contains cancerous cells, the tissue that is lining the chest muscles below the cancer, sometimes part of the chest wall muscles, and many of the lymph nodes surrounding the breast

Following a mastectomy, it is common for women to undergo breast reconstruction surgery in which the removed breast is rebuilt using the patient’s own non-breast tissue or artificial materials such as saline or silicone gel.  Reconstruction surgery may be done at the time of the mastectomy or at a later date.  It is important to make sure with your oncologist that your body is healthy enough for reconstruction surgery, as even cosmetic surgery can be a stress on an ailing body.

It is common for neoadjuvant therapy to be performed, a course of treatment in which chemotherapy is administered before surgery in order to shrink the tumor and reduce the amount of tissue that needs to be surgically removed.  Another procedure commonly done before some surgeries is a sentinel lymph node biopsy, a practice used to detect whether the cancer from the breast has spread to the surrounding lymph nodes.  Using a blue dye or radioactive substance that is injected into the area near the tumor, it is possible to see whether or not the cancer has spread by analyzing to where the dye flows.  Adjuvant therapy, a process in which post surgery radiation treatments, chemotherapy sessions and/or hormone therapies are done in order to kill off any cancer cells that could be lingering or to reduce the risk of cancer cells reappearing, is also commonly administered.

CHEMOTHERAPY

A treatment specifically for cancer, chemotherapy uses medications to eradicate malignant cells or stop their growth.  The two types of chemotherapy are the following:

  • Systemic chemotherapy – the chemotherapy drugs flow through the bloodstream and target cancer cells all over the body
  • Regional chemotherapy – the chemotherapy drugs target a specific area with cancer cells

RADIATION THERAPY

Radiation therapy uses high-energy powered x-rays, or sometimes other types of radiation, to eradicate cancerous cells and disable their growth and metastases.  The two types of radiation therapy are the following:

  • Internal radiation therapy – radioactive malignant cell-killing substances are inserted into or near the tumor via seeds, catheters or needles
  • External radiation therapy – a machine emits radiation to the body from outside

HORMONE THERAPY

Hormone therapy uses the removal of hormones or the hindering of their natural functions in order to prevent the growth of cancer cells.

  • Tamoxifen hormone therapy – used in patients with metastatic breast cancer or early stages of breast cancer to prevent the spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body; women undergoing tamoxifen hormone therapy require pelvic check-ups to look for cancer in the area
  • Aromatase hormone therapy – used in postmenopausal women with a type of breast cancer that is dependent upon the hormone estrogen to grow; aromatase turns androgen into estrogen hormones

TARGETED THERAPY

Targeted therapy uses drugs or other forms of treatment to attack cancer cells without harming any normal cells.

DRUGS

The following are the drug combinations used specifically to treat breast cancer:

  • AC – doxorubicin hydrochloride + cyclophosphamide
  • AC-T – doxorubicin hydrochloride + cyclophosphamide + paclitaxel
  • CAF – cyclophosphamide + doxorubicin hydrochloride + fluorouracil
  • CMF – cyclophosphamide + methotrexate + fluorouracil
  • FEC/CEF – fluorouracil + epirubicin hydrochloride + cyclophosphamide

Speak with your healthcare provider about the best course of treatment for your personal case.  Treatment plans are designed based upon patients’ specific type of breast cancer, cancer stage, organ and lymph node involvement, metastatic action, age, lifestyle, personal beliefs and desires and overall health.  There are many clinical trials currently conducting research on new cancer treatments, and there are a variety of available standard treatment options.  If you have discovered any possible signs of breast cancer, please do not hesitate to speak with your oncologist right away.