Breast cancer treatment can vary
The most effective treatment for breast cancer depends on the stage at which it is diagnosed.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there are five available treatment options: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy. A doctor may recommend a combination of these treatments.
Removing the sentinel lymph node (the first node to receive drainage from a tumor) is common. Patients may also get a lumpectomy, which removes the cancer and some normal tissue around it. A total mastectomy is the removal of the entire cancerous breast; this may also include removing some of the lymph nodes to determine if the cancer spread.
Chemotherapy and radiation
Before surgery, chemotherapy, which uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, can shrink a tumor and reduce the amount of tissue that needs to be removed. After surgery, the doctor may recommend chemotherapy or radiation to kill any remaining cancer cells. Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to destroy the cancer cells or keep them from growing. External radiation therapy requires a machine to send radiation toward the body, while internal radiation therapy requires a radioactive substance placed directly in or near the cancer. Both treatments, while they have shown to be effective, come with serious side effects.
Hormone and targeted therapy
These types of therapy are given after the surgery to remove the breast cancer with the purpose of destroying any remaining cancer cells. Hormones like estrogen, which is produced naturally by glands in the body, can cause breast cancer to grow, and hormone therapy is used to reduce the production of hormones or stop them from affecting the cancer’s growth. Certain types of hormone therapy have been shown to cause other health problems, including an increased risk of other types of cancer. Patients should talk to their doctor about continued hormone testing after the cancer treatment is finished.
Targeted therapy uses drugs and other substances to find specific cancer cells without damaging healthy cells. There are many types of treatments, including the use of antibodies, which can be used to deliver cancer-fighting drugs directly to the cancer cells instead of flooding the entire system.