The kind of treatment you receive will depend on your cancerís characteritstics ó its size, aggressiveness, whether or not it is invasive, ER-positive, etc. Your doctor will order several tests to help build a profile of your cancer, which will help determine the best course of treatment.
The four main types of treatments are:
Surgery (Lumpectomy or Mastectomy)
A lumpectomy involves the surgical removal of the tumor, as well as some of the surrounding tissue. A mastectomy involves the surgical removal of the breast, as well as some of the surrounding tissue and nearby lymph nodes. What and how much tissue is removed during surgery will depend largely on your cancerís characteristics.
In certain cases, a dye will be used during the surgery to help locate the lymph node closest to the tumor. This lymph node also will be removed and tested to see whether or not there are any cancer cells present. This procedure is called a sentinel node biopsy.
In other instances, several lymph nodes under the armpit (the axillary area) are also removed during the initial surgery. The axillary lymph nodes are then tested by a pathologist to determine if the cancer has spread there. This procedure, called an axillary lymph node dissection, is usually reserved for those cancers that the doctor believes are more likely to have spread or invaded nearby tissue.
Radiation therapy uses high energy x-rays to kill breast cancer cells and shrink breast tumors. There are two types of radiation therapy: external and internal. External radiation involves applying radiation from a machine located outside of the body. Internal radiation therapy entails putting radiation-producing materials (radioisotopes) into the area where the breast cancer cells have been found. Radioisotopes are placed via thin plastic tubes into the breast cancer site.
Chemotherapy (also called ďchemoĒ) involves drugs that systemically treat breast cancer cells throughout the body. The chemotherapy drugs either are injected intravenously or taken orally.
Hormone therapy is reserved for specific types of cancer, such as breast cancer, that are influenced by the presence of estrogen or progesterone. For example, anti-estrogen therapy is a type of hormone therapy that works by blocking the absorption of estrogen. This treatment is only effective on cancers that are estrogen-positive (ER-positive), meaning that there are estrogen receptors present on many of the cancer cells. Hormone therapies can be administered by using drugs like Tamoxifen that block the action of estrogen, or by the surgical removal of organs, like the ovaries, that produce estrogen.