What is the treatment of Breast Cancer?

By  , Expert Content
Nov 29, 2011

Advances in the treatment of breast cancer have improved the prognosis and cure rates of breast cancer over the past few decades. Treatment aims to completely cure the disease, but if that seems impossible, your doctor will focus on preventing the tumour from growing or spreading, increasing life expectancy and maintaining the quality of life.

Treatment options for breast cancer include:

  • Surgery.
  • Chemotherapy.
  • Hormone therapy.
  • Radiation therapy.

Your doctor will decide on the best treatment for you based on many factors, such as:

  • Type and stage of the cancer.
  • Sensitivity of the cancer to certain hormones.
  • Whether the cancer overproduces (over-expresses), a gene called HER2/neu or not.
  • Your general health.
  • Your preferences.

Surgery: The surgery done to remove the cancerous tissue depends on the size of the lump. If the size of the lump is relatively small, the surgeon may do a lumpectomy ( remove it along with a small amount of surrounding normal tissue). This breast is preserved in this surgery. If the size of lump (cancer) is big, it may not be possible to do breast-conserving operation (lumpectomy) and therefore, removal of the breast (mastectomy) may be needed. If with a larger lump, breast-conserving operation were tried, it would distort the breast, as a lot of breast tissue would have to be removed. Some indications for mastectomy (removal of the whole breast) are:

  • Big lump so that after lumpectomy, it may not be possible to leave a normal looking breast.
  • More than one lump in the breast.
  • Lump or cancer growth directly underneath the nipple.
  • If lumpectomy or wide excision has been done.

Radiation therapy: In radiation therapy or radiotherapy, high-powered energy beams are used to kill or destroy cancer cells and shrink tumours. Radiation therapy is directed at the affected area and the cancer cells are treated or destroyed. Although locally directed, radiotherapy incurs damage to normal cells of the body, which causes side effects such as fatigue, nausea,  vomiting and erythema of skin.These side effects can be distressing, but your doctor will prescribe medications to treat or help control them. Women with breast cancer are given  radiotherapy  by breast conserving surgery (lumpectomy or wide excision). According to studies, this reduces the risk of recurrence. Studies have shown that all patients treated should receive radiotherapy to the treated breast following surgery.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a mode of cancer treatment, which uses certain drugs to destroy or kill cancer cells. During chemotherapy for breast cancer, you may be given a combination of two or more drugs. These medications may be given orally or through your veins (intravenously). The medications used for a successful cancer chemotherapy are chosen in to minimise the damage to blood cells while maximising damage to cancer cells. Chemotherapy is usually given to women who are in the more advanced stages of breast cancer, which is not hormone responsive and meant for aggressive or rapidly growing cancers.

Hormone therapy: The medications given as hormone therapy alter the hormone levels in the body. Some breast tumours are sensitive to the female hormone estrogen. The cells of this kind of cancer need estrogen to stay alive. Hormone therapy limits the estrogen getting to the cancer cells and thereby control or kill hormone-sensitive breast cancers. Tamoxifen (an anti-estrogen medicine) is the most commonly used drug against estrogen sensitive tumours. A new class of medicines that is used for treatment of hormone sensitive breast cancers include aromatase inhibitors such asletrozole,anastrazole and exemestane.





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