If you haven’t read about Breast Cancer types and symptoms, please visit the following article.
Treatment for breast cancer aims at the following two targets:
- To remove as many cancer cells as possible from the body (or the affected area)
- To prevent recurrence of breast cancer
What are the best treatment options for breast cancer?
Bluntly, you don’t have to know the answer for this one. Your gynaecologist will be the right person to chalk out a treatment plan for you depending on the location and the stage of breast cancer. Treatment plan mainly depends on:
- The type of cancer you have
- The size of the tumour and the locations of the body where it has spread
- Whether the cancer cells have HER2 protein, estrogen or progesterone receptors etc.
- Your age
- Your current medications
- If you are going through your menopause stage
- Mastectomy – This procedure involves removal of entire breasts
- Lumpectomy (Breast conserving surgery) – Involves just removal of tumours and the affected tissues surrounding it.
Uses high energy beam / waves that target and kill cancer cells.
There are 3 types of radiation therapy:
- External – Where the radiation or energy comes from a device located outside the body.
- Brachytherapy – Radioactive implant seeds will be placed inside the body that emit radiation to kill the cancer cells.
- Proton Therapy – Targeted radiation to the breasts will be done in this procedure.
When is radiation therapy for breast cancer used?
- During the surgery after the tumor was removed. This is done just only once.
- After mastectomy or lumpectomy to prevent returning of cancer
- To treat symptoms of advanced breast cancer
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. These drugs may be administered orally or through veins on a daily, weekly or every 2 to 4 weeks. The main purpose of Chemotherapy is:
- To kill cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body
- To shrink the tumour before performing surgical removal. This is called ‘neo-adjuvant therapy’.
- Post radiation therapy, chemotherapy may be advised to prevent recurrence of cancer. This is called ‘adjuvant therapy’ in medical terms.
Short term side effects of Chemotherapy include:
- Loss of appetite
- Hair loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Premature Menopause
- Weight gain
- Increased bleeding
- Lower resistance to infections
Long term side effects of chemotherapy for breast cancer:
- Conjunctive heart failure
- Coronary artery disease
- Irregular heart beat
- Lung damage
- Hormone issues such as hot flashes, mood swings, issues with periods etc.
The hormones estrogen and progesterone produced in a woman’s body help in the growth of cancer cells. In hormone therapy, drugs are used to:
- Stop estrogen and progesterone from helping the cancer cells grow
- Reduce the production of these hormones by the ovaries.
Hormone therapy is used in women whose breast cancer cells have HER2 receptors. These receptors take up the estrogen or progesterone hormones to multiply. Administering drugs as a part this therapy will inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Hormone therapy is also done after clearing the cancer cells to prevent them from coming back.
Targeted therapy, also called biologic therapy uses body’s immune system or hormones to fight against breast cancer cells. This is a better way to treat because, this does less damage to healthy tissues or cells compared to radiation or chemo therapies.
Targeted therapy induces antibodies in the immune system to fight against cancer cells. In some cases, these antibodies are made in lab and given to the patient. In another approach, the drugs given block the growth signals received by the cancer cells.
As said earlier, breast cancer treatment also depends on the stage in which the cancer is. One or combination of these therapies may be advised by your doctor. Every woman should note that she should never ignore any lumps in her breast, especially those that are in or close to the nipple. If there is any discharge from the nipple or bleeding, rush to your gynaecologist for immediate check up and treatment.