Thousands of women die every year due to breast cancer. A Variety of factors can lead to breast cancer including late marriage, late childbirth, over exposure to X rays and toxins, genetics, family history, lack of breast feeding etc., to mention a few of them.
The conventional treatment method that is adopted is always chemotherapy, surgery and radiation treatment. The method adopted will be decided by the doctor after checking the biopsy results and assessing the stage and extent of cancer.
Breast Cancer Medications
Apart from these treatment methods, there are certain medications that are used as non invasive methods of treatment in an attempt to avoid surgery due to the age of the patient. The most common drugs used are Tykerb, Avastin and Herceptin.
Herceptin and Avastin are administered intravenously and takes about 1 ½ hours for completion. Herceptin is given every week and may present some very serious side effects that warrant immediate medical attention. The symptoms are swelling in the throat and facial areas, breathing difficulty, palpitations, pain that spreads to the shoulders and hands, fever, sores in the mouth, cough etc. Less serious side effects are flu, joint pain, headache and diarrhoea.
Avastin in administered every 2 weeks. Though this is a much better form of treatment, the side effects associated with Avastin are more serious. There would be abnormal bleeding from various parts of the body, stools that could be bloody, black or tarry, bloody vomit, slurry speech, confusion, blurred vision, loss of balance, high blood pressure etc. These are very severe and must be reported immediately.
Tykerb is a pill that can be taken orally. It has to be taken once every day with capecitabine and follows a 21 day cycle. Capecitabine is however continued only for the first 14 days. They will be continued until the doctor recommends. Side effects are less serious and include fainting, palpitations, diarrhoea mouth and lip sores, jaundice, fever, loss of appetite etc.
Breast Cancer Treatment
Surgery is the first line treatment adopted for breast cancer. Surgery is done when the cancer is much advanced and aggressive and also in the early stages of breast cancer. For early stages, only a lumpectomy is done to preserve the shape of the breast. For aggressive breast cancer, first neoadjuvant therapy is given where chemotherapy and radiation treatment is given to shrink the size of the tumour before surgery. For advanced stages of cancer, mastectomy or complete removal or breast tissue is done.
Chemotherapy is given orally or intravenously depending on the seriousness of the cancer. Chemotherapy drugs travel through the blood stream and kill stray cancer cells that could have escaped to other parts of the body and can lead to metastasis. Chemotherapy is also a preventive measure to stop recurrence.
Radiation therapy is a targeted treatment where high energy beams are directed at the area of cancer to destroy the cells. Radiation therapy can kill localised tumour and help in destroying any cancer cells that could be present in the site even after the surgery. It is also used before surgery for shrinking the size of the tumour.