The goal of treatment for advanced breast cancer is to kill cancer cells and keep the cancer from progressing for as long as possible, while allowing you to maintain a good quality of life. The number of treatment options for advanced breast cancer is continually increasing. You may get different opinions from healthcare professionals about the best course of treatment. Make sure you have enough information to make treatment decisions that you feel are right for you.
- This type of treatment kills cells in the body that are dividing and rapidly growing. These include cancer cells but may also include cells related to hair and nail growth, bone marrow cells and cells in the digestive system. This is why chemotherapy sometimes causes side effects in those parts of the body.
You may get one type of chemotherapy at a time (single-agent) or a few types together (combination therapy.) Most treatments are given intravenously but some are available in pills. Chemotherapy is given in cycles. Rest periods do not decrease the effectiveness of the treatment and they give your body a chance to recover from some side effects.
- Hormonal treatments are used for hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers. These are cancers that are stimulated to grow by the hormones estrogen and/or progesterone. This treatment lowers the amount of the hormones that reach the cancer, thereby slowing or stopping the cancer’s growth.
If your initial cancer was hormone-receptor-positive, the recurrence will usually be too. If the initial cancer was not tested for hormone receptors, or if you or your medical oncologist want to check for hormone receptors again this time to make sure, a biopsy will be done and the cancer tissue will be sent to a laboratory for testing.
- One of the most exciting areas in cancer treatments today is targeted therapies. These therapies attack specific proteins or genes on or within cancer cells that help the cells grow. Some are available today and many more are being developed and tested in clinical trials.
You may get targeted therapy alone or in combination with other treatments.
Treatment Questions To Discuss With Your Doctor
Which treatments should I start with?
When should I switch from one treatment to another?
How do I know whether a treatment is working?
Should I participate in a clinical trial?
As always, do not be afraid to ask questions. If you are uncomfortable with or do not understand an answer, probe deeper. The more information that you have and the more comfortable you are in understanding the treatment options will lead you to make the correct treatment decision.