Breast Cancer Treatment

Once breast cancer is diagnosed and an analysis completed, beginning a treatment regimen as quickly as possible is essential. The chance of recurrence is high for breast cancer patients, but improvements and advances in treatment protocols have improved treatment response and reduced mortality rates.

Radiation, surgery, hormone therapy and chemotherapy drugs are all methods of treating breast cancer. Each may be used exclusively, or in combination with another. Depending on a tumor’s type and stage of development–as well the patient’s overall health–an oncologist may recommend treatment options.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation for breast cancer treatment involves using high-energy radiation (such as x-rays and gamma rays) to shrink tumors by killing cancerous cells. Radiation therapy may be used at all stages of breast cancer, alone or in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy.

Because it helps doctors to control or shrink the malignancy and destroy abnormal cells, radiation therapy is used in more than half of breast cancer treatments, as reported by the National Cancer Institute (2010).

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy–or drug treatments that aim to kill cancerous cells–may be administered intravenously, orally or cutaneously (rubbed on the skin). This treatment option may be used to shrink a malignancy prior to radiation therapy or surgery, when the tumor is too large or too attached to healthy tissue to be easily removed surgically.

When used following surgery, breast cancer chemotherapy aims to destroy any potentially remaining cancerous cells, as well as to extend and improve quality of life.

Hormone Therapy

Some hormones, such as estrogen, have been linked to the growth of cancerous cells. Hormone therapy prevents this growth by removing the hormones or blocking their actions. Drugs, radiation and surgery can all be used to accomplish hormone therapy.

Surgery

Surgical procedures–ranging from biopsy to radical mastectomy–are often involved in breast cancer treatments. Biopsies are used to remove tissue samples to aid in diagnosis and to assess the degree of proliferation of a cancer. Biopsies are also used to remove small structures, such as lymph nodes, that have been invaded by cancer cells.

The lumpectomy is a technique used to remove benign tumors or malignant tumors that haven’t yet metastasized. The procedure also removes a small amount of normal (“marginal”) tissue surrounding the tumor.

An oncologist will likely recommend a mastectomy when much of the breast has been invaded. A partial mastectomy is helpful as a control measure if the malignancy hasn’t metastasized beyond the mammary gland. New techniques have made breast reconstruction possible after mastectomy, and are now often considered key to treatment and rehabilitation.

Resources

American Cancer Society. (2009). Breast cancer facts and figures 2009-2010. Retrieved October 13, 2010, from http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@nho/documents/document/f861009final90809pdf.pdf

National Cancer Institute. (2010). Breast cancer treatment. Retrieved October 18, 2010, from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/breast/Patient/page5#Keypoint21

National Cancer Institute. (2010). Radiation therapy for cancer. Retrieved October 18, 2010 from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/radiation