There are several treatment options for breast cancer, depending on the cancer stage and the patient’s age and general health. Patients have time for second opinions and to talk through all of their options with their doctors and develop a treatment plan that best fits their needs.
As always, make sure that you are comfortable with the treatment that you chose. Do not be afraid to ask questions of your medical team to ensure your peace of mind.
Breast Cancer Treatments
Surgery is the most common treatment for breast cancer. There are several different types:
- Also called breast-sparing surgery, breast-conserving surgery, and segmental or partial mastectomy, this involves removing the tumor and some surrounding tissue, but not the entire breast.
- In this operation, the entire breast is removed. Often, the surgeon removes lymph nodes under the arm as well. After surgery, some women also undergo radiation therapy. Some also choose to have breast reconstruction, or plastic surgery to rebuild the shape of the breast.
Nerves can be injured during surgery, which may create numbness or tingling in the chest area. If lymph nodes are removed, swelling called lymphedema can occur. Patients need to protect the arm and hand on the treated side of the body for the rest of their lives.
Radiation Therapy and Chemotherapy
- A large machine directs radiation at the body and uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Most women receive radiation after a lumpectomy, and some receive it after a mastectomy. Some patients have radiation before surgery to shrink the tumor.
- This treatment uses drugs to kill cancer cells. For breast cancer, this is usually a combination of drugs, given as pills or injections.
Some tumors need hormones called estrogen and progesterone to grow. Hormone therapy keeps cancer cells from getting the natural hormones they need to grow. Tests can show if a breast tumor has hormone receptors. Treatment for these types of tumors uses drugs or surgery.
Doctors use drugs that block the natural hormone. The most common is tamoxifen, which blocks estrogen. Another type of drug stops the body from making a form of estrogen called estradiol. If you have not gone through menopause, doctors may suggest a drug that stops the ovaries from producing estrogen. You may also have surgery to remove the ovaries, which are the body’s main estrogen producer.
Also called immunotherapy, it uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer. Some women with breast cancer that has spread take a biological therapy called Herceptin. Herceptin is given by vein and binds to cancer cells, blocking a specific protein in order to slow or stop cancer cell growth. This drug can be given alone or with chemotherapy.