Breast Cancer Treatment Options
While breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women besides skin cancer, survival rates of those diagnosed have been improving over the years. This is thanks to improved public awareness of breast cancer increasing the likelihood of the condition being caught early, along with the development of new or more advanced treatment methods that allow for the creation of more effective treatment plans.
For patients that have been diagnosed with breast cancer, or those who have family members or loved ones who have been diagnosed, there are a number of treatment options available. The best course for treatment will need to be determined by the patient’s doctors, and can vary depending on the type and stage of the breast cancer, as well as a number of other factors such as the patient’s overall health. To learn more about the common types of treatment for breast cancer, check out the information below, provided by the cancer care experts here at Peninsula Radiation Oncology Center.
Surgery is one of the most common types of treatment used for breast cancer, with most breast cancer patients having some form of surgery as part of their treatment. While surgery can sometimes be the sole treatment used, it is often combined with other forms of treatment to provide more comprehensive and effective treatment for the patient. The purpose of the surgical procedure can vary, from removing the cancerous tissue from the breast, discovering how far the cancer has spread, or as a post-treatment breast reconstruction procedure.
Removing Breast Cancer Through Surgery
If a patient is to have their breast cancer removed through surgery, there are two common procedures that may be used to do to so. These procedures are:
- Breast-conserving surgery - a surgical procedure where a surgical oncologist removes the part of the breast that contains the cancer, along with some surrounding normal tissue. How much of the breast that is removed depends on the location and size of the tumor. The goal of this procedure is to completely remove the cancer while conserving as much healthy breast tissue and structure as possible. This type of surgery is often referred to as a lumpectomy, quadrantectomy, partial mastectomy, or segmental mastectomy.
- Mastectomy – A surgical procedure that involves a surgical oncologist removing the entire breast. There are different types of mastectomy which can vary in the amount of tissue or types of tissue that are removed. For example, some women may get a double mastectomy, which involves the removal of both breasts. This procedure is more common with women who have a high risk of developing breast cancer, as removing all breast tissue eliminates the possibility of the cancer forming or returning after already being treated, as well as preventing existing cancer from spreading.
Removing Lymph Nodes For Breast Cancer
The lymph nodes around the breast are often the first place where breast cancer will spread , and could indicate the advancement of breast cancer into later stages. To determine if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, a few will be surgically removed and examined by a doctor to verify the presence of cancer. The amount and location of the lymph nodes that are removed can vary depending on the patients’ individual case.
Radiation cancer therapy is often used in combination with surgery as a treatment for breast cancer. Exposing cancer cells to radiation prevents their ability to heal and reproduce, making it an effective treatment at preventing cancer from spreading, shrinking tumors, or eliminating specific areas of cancer.
There are different types of radiation therapy, which can vary in effectiveness based on the types of surgery that the patient has, the stage of the cancer, and how far it has spread. For tumors that are particularly large or have spread to parts of the skin, radiation may be recommended as it can be used to shrink the tumor or target very specific areas while preserving healthy tissue. The most common types of radiation therapy used for breast cancer are:
- External Beam Radiation - using a special machine, radiation oncologists can direct a small, targeted beam of radiation on a specific area of the body that is affected by cancer. The radiation beam will penetrate the skin and hit the tumor directly. The frequency and radiation dosage of external beam radiation therapy will vary on a case-by-case basis
- Brachytherapy - Through a minor surgical procedure, small tubes containing bits of material that emit radiation are inserted in the body, being placed directly next to the tumor. This procedure allow for more direct radiation exposure, effectively killing cancer cells in the affected area. Once the radioactive material has natural worn off, another minor surgery will be performed to remove the small tubes. This is often referred to as internal radiation therapy.
Chemotherapy uses cancer-killing drugs to target and eliminate cancer cells throughout the body. This treatment is very flexible, since there are many kinds of chemotherapy drugs that can be used, allowing doctors to find the best combination of drugs that will suit the treatment needs of the patients. Some of the most common uses for chemotherapy include:
- Pre-Surgery - this type of chemotherapy can be used to shrink tumors to a size that allows for surgery to be more effective or require a less extensive procedure when removing tissue. It can also help prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body and lower the risk of new tumors forming. In some cases, this type of chemotherapy can be used by doctors to better identify the behavior of the tumor, closely monitoring how it responds to the chemotherapy before deciding the next step in the treatment process. This type of chemotherapy is also known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
- Post-Surgery - after the patient has undergone surgery to remove the cancerous tissue from the breasts, chemotherapy is commonly used as a follow up treatment to kill any cancer cells that may have spread to other tissue in other parts of the body. This reduces the chance that new tumors could form in the future
- Treating Advanced Breast Cancer - For cases of breast cancer that has advanced to later stages, the cancer has often spread to areas outside the breast such as the tissue of the underarm. Chemotherapy is used to slow or halt the growth and spreading of the cancer, and is often provided in conjunction with other cancer treatments.
Targeted therapy for breast cancer is similar to chemotherapy, since it uses drugs for treating cancer. However, this therapy focuses on very specific factors of the patients’ cancer, such as the presence or lack of certain proteins or hormone receptors. Some forms of targeted therapy are even designed for patients with specific gene mutation. Common types of targeted therapy for breast cancer include:
- HER2-positive Therapy - In one of every five cases of breast cancer, the cancer cells have an overabundance of a certain protein called HER2/neu. This protein promotes growth, which results in the cancer growing more rapidly than typical cases of breast cancer. Special drugs can target and destroy this protein to slow down the growth rate of the cancer.
- Hormone receptor-positive therapy - About two out of three cases of breast cancer are hormone receptor-positive. This means that the cancer will use hormones as a way to grow, but is also susceptible to hormone cancer therapy. This type of targeted therapy uses special drugs to enhance the hormone receptiveness of the cancer, making hormone therapy more effective.
- Therapy for BRCA gene mutations - BRCA is a type of gene that helps repair DNA, but some patients may have cancer cells that have a mutation in the BRCA gene that prevents DNA from being repaired. Special drugs can be used to block a type of protein, called a PARP protein, that also repairs DNA inside cells. Blocking PARP proteins causes the cancer cells die off since the mutated BRCA genes cannot repair the cell alone
For cases of breast cancer that are hormone-receptive, it means that the cancer cells themselves possess proteins that easily attach to estrogen and use it to increase the of growth. However, the protein also makes the cancer cells more susceptible to hormone therapy. Certain drugs can be used to block and damage the hormone receptors, or alter the estrogen levels in the body. Hormone therapy for breast cancer is often used following surgical treatment, reducing the chance of the cancer coming back or spreading
Contact Us For More Breast Cancer Information!
If you have any questions about the treatments for breast cancer, or would like more information, just contact us at Peninsula Radiation Oncology Center here in Soldotna, AK. Our team of cancer care experts have always provided professional cancer treatment and support to patients battling cancer, from radiation cancer therapy to informational and moral support.