Your doctor can determine the most ideal treatment methods for you depending on the type of breast cancer you have. This varies by cancer stage, grade and other factors.
There are numerous breast cancer treatment options available. It is possible to feel overwhelmed during the decision making on the best treatment for you. It is advisable to seek a second opinion on the matter from a cancer treatment specialist, and you can also talk to others who have undergone breast cancer treatment in the past.
Breast Cancer Treatment
First, watch a video for breast cancer treatments:
There are several surgical procedures available. They include:
This is also referred to as breast-sparing surgery. In this procedure, the tumor is removed as well as a few tissues that were surrounding the tumor. This is an ideal treatment method for small tumors.
This is a surgery done to remove all breast tissues in the entire breast. These tissues include lobules, fatty tissues, nipples, areolas, ducts and skin. There is also the skin sparing mastectomy which ensures the skin covering the breast is left intact for the purpose of reconstruction.
- Sentinel node biopsy
This refers to the treatment method where a few infected lymph nodes (sentinel) are removed. However, the doctor must first ascertain that some lymph nodes have been infected before the procedure is undertaken.
- Axillary lymph node dissection
This is the removal of additional lymph nodes if the sentinel lymph nodes are infected. These additional lymph nodes are mostly in the armpit.
- Removal of both breasts
If one breast is highly infected by the cancer cells, some women prefer having the other uninfected breast removed too. This reduces the risk of developing the cancer again.
Depending on the surgical procedure you choose, you may be exposed to different complications. There is risk of infection and bleeding after surgery. After the procedure, you can go for breast reconstruction. You can discuss this possibility with your surgeon.
2. Radiation Therapy
This type of treatment involves the use of energy beams under high power. These can include X-rays which kill cancer cells. This procedure can be done using an external radiation machine or you can undergo brachytherapy where the radioactive elements are placed internally.
External radiation is most effective for lumpectomy in breast cancers during the early stages. Your doctor may recommend radiation after the surgical treatment procedure if you had advanced breast cancer or cancer that has spread to lymph nodes.
The side effects from radiation therapy are the appearance of a red rash (especially on the area receiving treatment) and fatigue. The breast tissues may also look swollen and firm. In some rare cases, radiation therapy has resulted in heart and lung damage even though it is in very rare cases. There are also cases of cancer developing later in the treated parts.
This is a type of treatment where drugs are used for killing the cancer cells. This type of therapy is recommended on cancer cases that have a high change of spreading. Chemotherapy decreases the chances of the cancer recurring.
If you have a larger breast tumor, you may be put under chemotherapy before surgery. Chemotherapy shrinks the tumor making it easier to remove through surgery. This treatment method is also used in women with cancers that have spread.
The side effects of chemotherapy treatment greatly depend on the drugs being used. Some of the common side effects are hair loss, fatigue, vomiting and an increased risk of infections. Other rare side effects include heart and kidney damage, premature menopause, blood cell cancer as well as damage to the nerves.
4. Hormone Therapy
Hormone therapy or hormone blocking therapy treats hormone sensitive breast cancers. This type of cancer is referred to as ER (estrogen receptor) positive or PR (progesterone receptor) positive cancers.
The treatment can be administered after a surgical process to reduce the chances of the cancer recurring. In case the cancer has spread to other parts, hormone therapy can shrink the cancer and control it.
Treatments used in hormone therapy include:
- Hormone blocking medication
This can include SERM (selective estrogen receptor modulator). These are medications that block estrogen from attaching to cancer infected estrogen receptors. These medications also slow down tumor growths and eventually kill cancer cells. Some of these medications include raloxifene, tamoxifen as well as toremifene. These medications can have side effects like night sweats, hot flashes as well as vaginal dryness.
- Aromatase inhibitors
These are simply medications that inhibit the making of estrogen hormone. However, these medications are only useful for women who are past menopause. Examples of these medications include anastrozole, exemestane and letrozole. Some of the side effects of using these drugs include vaginal dryness, night sweats, hot flashes and muscle aches. You also run the risk of bone thinning.
- ER destruction drugs
This is a drug that blocks cancer infected estrogen receptors and signals the cells to destroy these receptors. The fulvestrant drug is this type of drug and is ideal in post-menopausal women. Some of the side effects include joint pain, nausea and hot flashes.
- Ovary hormone production inhibitors
This can be administered in form of medication or a surgical procedure. The medication is meant to inhibit the ovaries from producing estrogen. The surgical process is meant to remove the ovaries.
5. Targeted Therapies
These types of drugs attack abnormalities in cancer cells. Some of the targeted drugs ideal for treating breast cancer include:
This is a drug that stops the production of protein by cancer cells. Without the protein, these cells cannot multiply, and they consequently die. Side effects of this drug include heart problems, diarrhea and headaches.
This is a drug approved for use in chemotherapy and metastatic breast cancer. This is given to cancer patients who have not used any other drug for treating their breast cancer. Some of the side effects include hair loss, diarrhea and heart problems.
- Ado-trastuzumab emtansine (kadcyla)
This is simply trastuzumab blended together with a drug for killing cells. This makes the drug ideal in finding cancer cells while the cell killing drug attacks the cancer cells. This is a drug given to women who have tried the trastuzumab alone and chemo to no avail.
This is a drug given to women with advanced breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer. It can be used alongside chemotherapy as well as hormone therapy.