Treatments for Breast Cancer

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Breast Cancer

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With many medical advancements and technological discoveries, there are now many treatments for breast cancer available. Today it is no longer a life-threatening disease; instead, there is vision, hope and excitement, in the form of many treatment choices, which fight the complex mix of cells in each individual cancer. There are many treatments that you can choose from.

One of the first thing is surgery. This is usually the first treatment that is used, and which surgery is appropriate for you depends on what your doctor says. The factors that it depends on include the stage of your cancer, the personality of it, and what seems acceptable to you.

You could go for mastectomy and lumpectomy. Lumpectomy is known as breast-conserving surgery, and it removes only the tumor and a small amount of surrounding tissue. Mastectomy is the removal of the whole breast tissue. There is partial mastectomy (also known as segmental mastectomy, which removes the part of the breast that has cancer, and some normal tissue around it), total mastectomy (which removes the whole breast that has cancer, some of the lymph nodes under the arm may also be removed for biopsy), modified radical mastectomy (removal of the whole breast that has cancer, some of the lymph nodes under the arm, the lining over the chest muscles, and sometimes part of the chest wall muscles).

Then there is also lymph node removal – which is also called axillary lymph node dissection, this can take place during the lumpectomy and mastectomy, if the biopsy shows that the breast cancer has spread outside the milk duct. Sentinel lymph node dissection is known to be less intrusive. Then there is also breast reconstruction, which means the rebuilding of the breast after mastectomy and sometimes even lumpectomy. However, some women may want just prosthesis, opting not to go for breast reconstruction. Also available is prophylactic mastectomy, which means preventive removal of the breast, in order to lower or eliminate the risk of breast cancer in those people who are at high risk. Finally, among surgery options, there is also prophylactic ovary removal, which is also a kind of preventive surgery – it lowers the amount of estrogen in the body, thus it is harder for the stimulation of the development of breast cancer.

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Second, there is chemotherapy. This uses medicine to weaken and destroy the cancer cells in the body, this also includes the cells at the original cancer site and also any cancer cells which may have spread to other parts of the body. Today chemotherapy is referred to casually as “chemo”; it is a systemic therapy, implying that the whole body is affected, through the bloodstream. Many medicines are available for chemotherapy – usually two or more are used, as a combination. Chemotherapy is used to treat early-stage invasive breast cancer, which helps to get rid of any cancer cells which may have been left behind after surgery (to reduce the risk of cancer coming back), and advanced-stage breast cancer (which destroys or damages the cancer cells as much as possible.  Sometimes, chemotherapy may even be given before the surgery, with the objective of shrinking the cancer.

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The third treatment option is hormonal therapy medicine, which treat the hormone-receptor positive breast cancers by lowering the amount of hormone estrogen in the body, and/or by blocking the action of estrogen on the breast cancer cells. Since the estrogen is made by the woman’s ovaries, and it makes hormone-receptor positive breast cancers grow, reducing it or blocking its action can reduce the risk considerably. In fact, doctors today use hormonal therapy medicine to help shrink, or even retard the growth of advanced-stage or metastatic hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers.

Many kinds of hormonal therapy medicines are available – like aromatase inhibitors, estrogen receptor down-regulators, and selective estrogen receptor modulators. But one thing that you should know is that hormonal therapy is definitely not hormone replacement therapy – which is not used to treat breast cancer. HRT is in fact, taken by some women with the aim of treating troublesome menopausal side effects like mood swings and hot flashes. HRT raises the estrogen levels which tend to drop after menopause but hormonal therapy does the opposite – it blocks or lowers the levels of estrogen in the female body.

There is also radiation therapy – which is also referred to as radiotherapy. This is highly targeted and also highly effective, as a way to destroy the cancer cells in the breast, which may be there even after the surgery. Studies have shown that radiation can reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence by almost 70%. Many women are afraid of radiation therapy, but the truth is that it is actually somewhat easy to tolerate, and regarding the side effects – they are limited to the area that is being treated. Radiation therapy treatments are supervised by a radiation oncologist, and a cancer doctor whose specialization is radiation therapy.

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