/ Cancer (Oncology) / Breast Cancer Treatment

Breast Cancer Treatment

Breast Cancer Treatment involves the removal of cancerous cells in the breasts. At times it may also involve the removal of the breast which is called mastectomy.
Advancements in technology are bringing in more and more treatments to cure breast cancer completely. The treatment plan that is advised to you is based on your diagnosis and is unique to your condition. You can even go for a second opinion to find out if the treatment plan is good for you and re-evaluate your decisions accordingly. The aim however should be to destroy your cancer cells and make sure the cancer doesn’t recur.
How it Works?
The treatment plan for breast cancer usually involves surgery, followed by radiation therapy and then hormonal therapy followed by chemotherapy. Depending upon your diagnosis, one or two phases in this treatment may be eliminated altogether.
The type of surgery you need to undergo depends upon the stage of cancer you are in and the personality of your cancer. The decision will have to be made after comparing the options, weighing the benefits and risks and considering the quality of life you will have to lead after the breast cancer treatment. The options available are:
  • Lumpectomy or breast-conserving surgery: This involves only the removal of the tumor along with a small amount of surrounding tissues.
  • Mastectomy: This involves the complete removal of your breast tissue. With time this procedure has become less intrusive and more refined. In most of the cases, the doctors do not remove the muscles under the breast.
  • Lymph node removal / dissection: During a mastectomy or a lumpectomy in case the biopsy reveals that the breast cancer has spread outside the milk duct, lymph node dissection may be advised.
Radiation therapy
Post breast-cancer surgery if there are any cancerous cells remaining in the breast, radiation therapy will effectively destroy them. The radiation may be delivered by a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material judiciously placed in the organ next to the cancer cells (internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy).
  • Powerful beams of radiation are targeted towards the cancerous tumors in extremely controlled conditions. These radiations could be X-rays, gamma rays, or charged particles.
  • These radiations destroy the cancer cells by damaging their DNA (the molecules  that carry genetic information and pass it from one generation to the next). Alternatively they also create charged particles (free radicals) within the cells that in turn damage the DNA.
  • Once the DNA is damaged beyond repair, the Cancer cells stop dividing and die. The dead cancer cells get broken down and are eliminated by the body through the elementary canal.
With time radiation starts damaging cells that are in the path of its beam. Advanced technology technique ensure the precise delivery of such beams to make sure minimal damage is caused to the normal cells surrounding the cancerous cells.
Hormonal Therapy
In case of hormone-receptor- positive breast cancers, hormonal therapy is given to reduce the chances of recurrence after the surgery and radiation. This therapy reduces the production of estrogen or successfully blocks its action. Hormonal therapy medicines such as aromatase inhibitors, estrogen receptor down regulators and selective estrogen receptor modulators may be given in order to reduce estrogen or block its action.
In certain cases the fallopian tubes and ovaries will have to be surgically removed as a preventive measure. Alternatively, ovaries may be shut down by the use of proper medication. Hormonal therapy medicines may be given even in advanced-stage or metastatic hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers. They either shrink or slow down the growth of such cancers.

Chemotherapy refers to the use of medications to shrink or destroy the cancerous cells. This therapy is generally used in:
  • Early-stage invasive breast cancer in order to destroy any cancerous cells that may have remained in the breast after the surgery and to minimize the risk of recurrence of such cancer.
  • advanced-stage breast cancer to try and damage as many cancer cells as possible
In certain cases chemotherapy may be advised prior to the surgery in order to shrink the cancer. This type of chemotherapy is referred to as "neoadjuvant" chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy medicines are usually given in combinations called chemotherapy regimens. In early-stage breast cancer cases, these regimens minimize the chances of the cancer recurring. In advanced stage breast cancers they shrink the cancer. Results of chemotherapy usually vary from case to case.
Side Effects & Risks
Breast Cancer Treatment is generally associated with side effects that may develop either because of the treatment or the disease itself. They may be long-term in nature and may continue even after the treatment is over. Some such side effects include:
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Numbness or Pain
  • Dental issues
  • Musculoskeletal symptoms
  • Lymphedema
  • Bone loss and osteoporosis
  • Secondary cancers
  • Heart problems
  • Blood clots
  • Cataracts
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Absence of menstrual periods
  • Infertility
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Memory loss
  • Loss of cognitive functions
Some of these could be late side effects and may start appearing weeks, months or even years after completing the breast cancer treatment. They can be however addressed by maintaining a healthy lifestyle after the treatment.
Preparing for Breast Cancer Treatment
You will have to explain your entire medical history to your doctor before starting the breast cancer treatment. This includes any illnesses you may have, any allergies to medications, any medications that you may be taking currently and any other herbs or vitamins you may be taking. In case you are on aspirin or any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, you may be asked to stop taking them a week before your treatment begins. To make sure there will be no complications either during or after the surgery, you may be asked to undergo a few tests such as chest x-ray, electrocardiogram, blood tests, urine test and maybe a CAT scan.
What to expect after Breast Cancer Treatment?
Once you are through with your Breast Cancer Treatment, the next thing you need to focus on is to monitor your condition so as to prevent the recurrence of cancer. You may have to attend follow-up sessions regularly to make sure things are going as per expectations. During these sessions your symptoms will be reviewed and a physical examination would be conducted for any early detection of a recurrence or any new type of cancer.
In case you are emotionally disturbed, you may be asked to see a psychiatrist or attend a support group that might help you heal quickly.
Results of Breast Cancer Treatment
Results of Breast Cancer Treatment depends on how well your body responds to the treatment and in what way you manage your lifestyle. Cancer rehabilitation helps about 60 to 95% of the women who survive breast cancer. This includes physical therapy, counseling and more to make sure you recover as soon as possible and get back to the life that you used to live before being diagnosed with breast cancer. However, you need to give yourself a lot of time to adapt to the changes that life brings to you after breast cancer.