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Treatment Options for Breast Cancer

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Treatment Options for Breast Cancer  

What are the treatment options for breast cancer?

The kind of treatment you receive will depend on your cancerís characteristics ó its size; aggressiveness; whether or not it is invasive and how far it has spread; whether it has receptors for hormones; whether or not the cancer cells have too much HER2 on their surface, etc. Your doctor will order several tests to help build a profile of your cancer, which will help determine the best course of treatment. Also, your doctor and you will consider your medical history in considering treatment options.

The five main types of treatments are:

  • Surgery (Lumpectomy or Mastectomy)

  • Radiation Therapy

  • Chemotherapy

  • Hormone Therapy

  • Biological Therapy

  • Surgery:

    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:

    Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill breast cancer cells and shrink breast tumors. There are two types of radiation therapy: external and internal.

    External radiation therapy involves applying radiation (such as high-energy x-rays) 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:

    Hormone therapy is reserved for specific types of cancer, such as breast cancer, that are influenced by the presence of hormones (e.g., estrogen or progesterone).

    Anti-estrogen therapy is only effective on cancers that are estrogen-positive (ER-positive), meaning that there are estrogen receptors present on many of the cancer cells. Ways to achieve anti-estrogen therapy can involve administration of drugs like Tamoxifen that block the action of estrogen, or by the surgical removal of organs, like the ovaries, that produce estrogen.

    Biological Therapy:

    Biological (also called biologic) therapy uses materials made by the human body or made by cells grown in a laboratory to fight cancer. An example of biological therapy used to treat breast cancer is the medication, Herceptin (generic name, trastuzumab), which is a monoclonal (a special, pure type of) antibody. Herceptin blocks the HER-2/neu receptor on the surface of certain types of breast cancer cells from binding to epidermal growth factor (EGF), a molecule that otherwise could stimulate the multiplication of the cancer cells.

    Questions Related to Treatment Options for Breast Cancer
    If my cancer does recur, how will I be treated?
    Iíve just been diagnosed with breast cancer. What should I do, including deciding on treatment?
    Should I get a second opinion from another doctor about my breast cancer?
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    What does a cancerís histological grade have to do with selecting a type of treatment?
    What treatments are usually associated with the different stages of breast cancer?
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    What is the difference between breast cancer and recurrent breast cancer? How do the treatments differ?
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    What is the difference between a lumpectomy and a mastectomy?
    When would I choose a mastectomy over a lumpectomy?
    When is radiation added after a mastectomy?
    What is a lumpectomy?
    What is a partial mastectomy?
    What is a radical mastectomy?
    What is a modified radical mastectomy?
    What is a total mastectomy?
    What is a segmental mastectomy?
    What is a skin-sparing mastectomy?
    What is involved with a lumpectomy surgery? How long will it take?
    What is involved with a mastectomy surgery? How long will it take to recover?
    What is radiation therapy?
    When is radiation therapy appropriate for breast cancer?
    When is radiation therapy not an option for breast cancer?
    Does the procedure for external radiation therapy hurt?
    Will external radiation therapy make me radioactive?
    Does radiation therapy increase my risk of my breast cancer recurring?
    Does radiation therapy increase my risk of developing cancer in my other breast?
    Who is a dosimetrist?
    What happens during your radiation setup?
    What happens during the actual treatments with external radiation?
    What is brachytherapy?
    How long will my external radiation therapy take?
    What is a boost dose of radiation?
    What is intraoperative radiation therapy?
    What is hyperfractionated radiation therapy?
    What is radiosurgery ablation?
    Can I take vitamins during radiation treatment?
    What is chemotherapy? How does it work? How is the treatment taken?
    What are SERMs? How do they work?
    What are aromatase inhibitors? How do they work?
    What is tamoxifen? How does it work?
    What is Arimidex?
    What is Taxol?
    What are the different classes of chemotherapy (chemo) drugs used to treat breast cancer?
    What are adjuncts?
    What is bone marrow transplantation?

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