Breast cancer is one of the most challenging diseases of present times. However, medical sciences have been able to reassure patients of a normal life with the numerous therapies that have come into being in recent times. Treatment of breast cancer is possible to different extents depending upon the stage and type of breast cancer that a person is suffering from, though in most cases highly competent treatment practices have made a complete cure possible.
Breast Cancer is treated using six standard methods, namely, surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy. Apart from these new forms of therapy are in the experimental stage.
Know the Breast Cancer Crew
Breast cancer is a complex disease and needs the attention of physicians from different disciplines. The team comprises a cancer surgery specialist, an oncology specialist, a radiographer, pathologist, a radiologist, a reconstructive surgery specialist and a cancer-experienced nurse. Other people included in the breast cancer treatment team are a dietitian, a physiotherapist, a clinical psychologist and an occupational therapist.
What are the Treatment Approaches for Breast Cancer?
As soon as it is confirmed that one is suffering from breast cancer, the doctors will plan out a treatment approach based on the following factors:
• The cancer stage and its grade( the size of the tumor and the extent to which it spread in the breast and surrounding areas)
• The general health condition of the patient
• Menopausal Concerns
Types of Treatments Practiced Today
There are six standard treatments for breast cancer as of now and there are a few more in the experimental stages. Here we shall discuss the standard treatments one by one:
Surgery is done with either one of the two basic motives, either to save the breast (conserving surgery) or remove (mastectomy). The surgeon will decide upon the approach to take depending upon the type of breast cancer detected.
Surgery is resorted to when the breast cancer is in the primary stage and the cancerous cells are totally removed from the body of the patient who resumes a normal life after the therapy. At times surgery is preceded by hormone therapy or chemotherapy.
Breast- Conserving Surgery
If the breast has just a cancerous lump that needs to be removed and the rest of the breast can be conserved, then the breast-conservation surgery is performed. Breast conserving surgery may be of the following types:
• Lumpectomy- this involves removal of the cancerous lump while conserving the rest of the breast
• Wide Local Excision- removal of the cancerous lump and the surrounding tissue
• Partial Mastectomy- this is almost the same as lumpectomy but it involves removal of more of the surrounding tissue.
• Qaudrantectomy- this surgery involves removal of almost one-fourth of the breast.
The type of breast conserving surgery that needs to be done on a patient depends on the type of breast cancer( its stage and grade), the position of the cancerous tumor and the affected tissue, the extent of the diseased area and the size of the breast. It is a good practice to remove a part of the non-cancerous tissue surrounding the cancerous part so that the rest of the breast is not affected. Any cancerous remnants present in the surrounding tissue are removed by radiotherapy.
If the breast is not in a recoverable stage then mastectomy or removal of the entire breast is done. It is also done on patients who are at a potential risk of breast cancer. There is no need to worry for patients who undergo mastectomy as it will probably be followed by treatments to re-create the lost breast. If the lymph nodes are apparently unaffected, mastectomy may be done with a sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB). Spreading of cancer to the lymph nodes will result in removal of the cancerous tissue from the underarm region.
Mastectomy is often followed by reconstruction surgery which is done immediately after mastectomy (immediate reconstruction) or done after some days (delayed mastectomy). Reconstruction involves creating a breast either by implantation of synthetic substances or by the growth of new breasts with tissue from another part of the body.
Radiotherapy involves destroying any cancerous remnants from the breast after surgery or chemotherapy by exposing the patient to therapeutically monitored doses of radiation. Radiotherapy is of different types and a patient is given one of them depending upon the kind of breast cancer and the type of treatment undergone in the previous stage.
Breast radiotherapy(done after breast conserving surgery on the rest of the breast tissue), chest wall therapy( done on the chest wall after mastectomy), breast boost( done in the area where the breast was removed with high doses of radiation), and lymph nodes radiotherapy( done on the lymph nodes in the armpit and the vicinity).
This is drug therapy done on the patient by oral administration of a combination of drugs decided upon by the type of breast cancer and the extent of damage done. Chemotherapy that follows surgery, adjuvant chemotherapy, is done to destroy any remaining cancerous cells after the surgery. Chemotherapy done before surgery, neo-adjuvant therapy, is done to reduce the size of a breast tumor.
Hormone therapy is resorted to when the breast cancer is induced by the hormones, progesterone and estrogen. It normally follows surgery and chemotherapy, but may also precede surgery at times to reduce the size of the cancerous tumor to facilitate easy operation.
The grade and stage of cancer are the determining factors for the type of hormone therapy to be given to the patient. When a patient’s health is not conducive to other therapies like surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, then hormone therapy becomes the only mode of therapy. Of course, this treatment can be resorted to only when the breast cancer can respond to hormone therapy.
Targeted Therapy (Biological Therapy)
Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2, a gene protein found in the body, can cause cancer when it is produced in greater than normal levels.
Biological Therapy is targeted towards controlling the mal-effects of this protein and helping the immune system combat cancer and cancer pro-cancerous cells.
Psychological counseling, aromatherapy, acupuncture, relaxation techniques and relaxation massages are taken by breast cancer patients along with the standard treatments for better emotional and physical health to cope with the devastating condition.
Breast Cancer Treatment in Men
Breast cancer occurs in men also and the treatment approaches are almost the same with the standard methods of treatment being followed there.