Breast Cancer Treatment
In recent years, the mortality rate of women diagnosed with breast cancer has declined drastically due to improved health management programs aimed at alleviating and exterminating cancerous tumors in the mammary organs of women.
In this article, we’ll touch upon what breast cancer is, and also discuss the three most commonly recommended treatment options for women diagnosed with breast cancer.
What Is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a type of cancer that originates in the cells of the breast. A malignant tumor refers to a group of cancerous cells that can invade and destroy nearby tissues; additionally, it has the ability to spread to other areas of the body.
Cells in the breast occasionally change and fail to grow or behave in a normal way. These changes can lead to either benign breast conditions, including cysts and atypical hyperplasia, or non-malignant tumors such as intraductal papillomas.
Conversely, in some individuals the changes in the cells of the breast cause breast cancer. Usually, breast cancer begins in the cells that line the ducts; this type of cancer is known as ductal carcinoma. However, it can also start in the cells of the lobules; this type of cancer is known as lobular carcinoma.
Both of these cancers can be in situ, meaning that the cancer remains where it started and has not invaded surrounding tissues, or invasive, meaning that the cancer has spread into surrounding tissues.
Other less common types of breast cancer include inflammatory breast cancer, triple negative breast cancer, and Paget disease of the breast. Rare types of breast cancer include soft tissue sarcoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
How Is Breast Cancer Treated?
The three most commonly recommended conventional treatment options for breast cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation.
The type of treatment for each patient depends on various factors including the type of cancer, stage of disease, and patient preference. In some cases, a multidisciplinary approach to treatment may be utilized. Additionally, there are a variety of complementary and alternative options such as yoga, acupuncture, and meditation that may be helpful for some patients when used in conjunction with traditional treatment options.
Below we’ll discuss the three most common treatment options in a little more detail so you can better understand each option.
Breast Cancer Surgery
Surgery is typically the first line of attack against breast cancer and involves removal of the tumor, its surrounding tissues, or the whole breast itself to remove cancerous cells.
Breast cancer surgery may include removal of the entire breast, which is known as a mastectomy, or may be breast conserving, which is known as a partial mastectomy.
Breast-conserving surgery or partial mastectomy involves the removal of a part of the breast depending on the site and size of the tumor. There are two types of this surgery:
- Lumpectomy – removal of the lump and a small amount of surrounding tissue.
- Quadrantectomy – removal of a quarter of the breast tissue.
Mastectomy involves the removal of the entire breast. The types of mastectomy include:
- Total or simple mastectomy – removal of the entire breast and nipple.
- Nipple-sparing mastectomy – removal of the entire breast without the removal of the nipple to preserve it for reconstructive surgery. This procedure can only be done if the tumor is far from the nipple and if the cancer has not spread to the nipple.
- Skin-sparing mastectomy – removal of the entire breast without the removal of the skin of the breast.
- Modified radical mastectomy – removal of the breast and the lymph nodes of the axilla or armpit.
- Radical mastectomy – removal of the breast, lymph nodes, and muscles under the affected breast.
During a mastectomy or partial mastectomy, the surgeon may also perform lymph node removal or sentinel lymph node dissection, if the biopsy has revealed that the cancerous cells have spread outside of the milk duct.
If you have skin cancer, your doctor may have mentioned using radiation therapy as a form of treatment. Learn about radiation therapy for skin cancer here.
Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer
Radiation therapy involves using high-energy rays to remove and destroy cancer cells. This type of treatment may be given through external beam radiation or brachytherapy.
Radiation therapy is usually given to patients who undergo breast-conserving surgery to prevent recurrence of cancer cell growth. Those who have had a mastectomy may undergo radiation therapy as well if the lumps they had are more than 5 cm in size, or if cancer is present in the lymph nodes.
External beam radiation is a procedure where a person is exposed to radiation using a machine focused on the affected area. Each treatment session usually lasts for several minutes and is performed five days a week for 5 to 6 weeks.
Brachytherapy, also called internal radiation, is a procedure that involves introducing radiation inside the body through radioactive seeds. There are two types of brachytherapy:
- Interstitial involves placement of catheters with pellets in the area where the cancerous cells were removed and for several periods during the day.
- Intracavitary involves the placement of a device in place of the tissue that was removed and kept in place until the treatment is finished.
Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer
Chemotherapy involves using medications to kill cancer cells in the body. These medications may be given by mouth or via injection into the vein. In many cases, a combination of chemotherapy medications may be used at the same time to improve treatment outcomes.
Chemotherapy may be recommended before or after surgery. Chemotherapy is given before surgery is called neoadjuvant therapy, while chemotherapy given after surgery is called adjuvant therapy. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is used to decrease the size of the tumor so that operation is less extensive. Adjuvant chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells after surgery to prevent recurrence of the cancer.
There are various side effects chemotherapy including mouth sores, nausea and vomiting, hair loss, changes in appetite, easy bruising, fatigue, and increased risk of infection.
Research has shown that standard chemotherapy treatment lowers the risk of recurrence when administered in the early stages of the disease, while it helps to shrink or eliminate cancer in approximately 30 percent to 60 percent of individuals with advanced stages of breast cancer.
If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, you’ll want to thoroughly discuss all available breast cancer treatment options with your healthcare provider. Choosing the right treatment option, taking into account all of the risks and side effects of the treatment, is essential to optimize your chance of a full recovery and optimize your quality of life.
It’s important to keep in mind that choosing the appropriate treatment option is a decision that is ultimately made by the patient and their loved ones, after taking into account recommendations from various healthcare practitioners.