Possible goals of treatment of breast cancer include:
• Curing the disease (i.e., achieving long-term remission of the disease by removing the tumor and permanently eliminating all the cancer cells from the body)
• Prolonging life
• Improving quality of life by eliminating or reducing symptoms of the disease
Every breast cancer is as unique as every patient. When you and your oncologists decide on the goals for your treatment and the specific treatment options to achieve the goals, several factors need to be considered, especially:
• Your cancer’s characteristics — its stage (how far it already has spread), aggressiveness (its potential for spreading), size, lack or presence of estrogen receptors, etc.
• Your medical and physical characteristics — more specifically, your age, overall health, child-bearing status, menopausal status, size of breasts, etc.
The stage of your cancer will be the main determining factor for selecting a treatment. There are a wide range of treatment options to consider for an early-stage cancer that has not spread to the lymph nodes, compared with a tumor that has metastasized to other organs in the body.
Breast cancers that are estrogen- or progesterone-receptor positive may benefit from certain hormonal therapies. A breast cancer that has a genetic characteristic called HER-2 over-expression would be more likely to respond to the biological medication, Herceptin than would other types of breast cancers.
Apart from your breast cancer’s characteristics, you and your oncologists also need to consider your age, general health, and many other medical factors that might conflict with certain treatment options. For example, if you suffer from heart disease, anemia, or osteoporosis and take medications for these conditions, you might not be able to tolerate certain types of radiation or certain types of chemotherapy. Older women who have already experienced childbirth may consider certain treatment options that a younger woman still looking forward to becoming a mother may want to rule out.
You and your oncologists will need to discuss all of these issues before choosing a treatment plan.