Breast cancer has now become the most common form of cancer invading a woman’s body, apart from cervical cancer. The earlier treatment methods had many limitations and gave very little hope to the patients. Thanks to the advancements in life saving treatment methods, women have now a great number of possibilities to look forward to.
Every patient is unique and hence treatment options and combinations that are tried may not be the same. Treatment for breast cancer is planned according to the type, stage and risk factors associated with the treatment and the age of the patient. There are five standard treatment methods available for breast cancer.
Treatment Options For Breast Cancer
Surgical Removal Of Breast Tumour
When a cancer patient opts for surgery, there are two options available before her. First is mastectomy which removes the entire breast during surgery and the second is lumpectomy which is the removal of the lump from the breast and some normal tissue surrounding it, leaving the breast for augmentation and reconstruction surgery. Several factors decide whether to go for a lumpectomy or mastectomy. If the cancer is much advanced, one would have to go for mastectomy to prevent recurrence and spreading. Lumpectomy can be done if the tumour is localised and have not spread to many areas. The age of the patient is taken into consideration while deciding on which method of surgery to undertake.
Radiation therapy can be done before or after the surgery. Radiation therapy is a treatment method that uses powerful X rays or other radiation in destroying the cancer cells in the breast tissue and preventing it from growing or spreading if it is done before surgery. After surgery radiation treatment is to ensure that any cancer cells that are left over after surgery is destroyed and prevented from surfacing again. This is a targeted therapy method and very effective. Radiation therapy is not a difficult procedure and does not cause pain as in the case of chemotherapy. The side effects too are limited to the area where radiation treatment has been given.
Radiation therapy can be external where external beams from a machine are directed at the desired area. Internal radiation therapy involves placing a radioactive substance near or on the area where cancer is affected through a needle or a catheter.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs for treating cancer cells and destroying them. Chemotherapy can destroy cancer cells that are concentrated on the affected area and any other cells that may have migrated to other parts of the body. Many chemotherapy medicines are available for treatment. Sometimes combinations of two or more medicines are tried on patients for optimum results. Chemotherapy can be given before or after surgical removal of the tumour. This would depend on how big the tumour is. If the tumour is too big for surgical removal, chemotherapy is administered before the surgery in an attempt to shrink it. Chemotherapy after surgery is done to remove any more cancer cells present after surgery.
As breast cancer is a hormone related cancer, one has to reduce the amount of oestrogen present in the body in order to prevent the spread of cancer cells. Hormonal therapy involves administering drugs to block or reduce oestrogen production in the body and prevent the growth of cancer cells. Hormone receptor- positive breast cancers sometimes require the patient’s fallopian tubes and ovaries to be removed to stop hormone production. This surgical removal is also undertaken in patients with high risk of breast cancer. For women who are in the child bearing age and would want to preserve their fertility, medication is used in order to suppress the production or oestrogen in the ovaries.
Targeted therapy involves studying specific characteristics of the cancer cells and targeting the destruction of those harmful characteristics rather than aiming at destroying all the neighbouring cells which can be good as well as bad cells. By targeted therapy, normal and healthy cells around the cancer growth are not destroyed.
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There Are Two Types Of Targeted Therapies
This is a targeted therapy system that works like the immune system response in our body when a bacteria or virus enters our body. The antibodies produced by the immune system try to destroy the virus or bacteria. Here, the antibodies are produced in the lab. Multiple copies of a single cell are developed and they are designed to identify a specific protein that are present in the cancer cells and alert the body to destroy them. The body’s immune system picks up the message and destroys only these targeted cells, leaving all the other healthy cells in the body intact. These antibodies are much more effective than chemotherapy which can destroy many of the healthy cells that are present near the cancer cells and also damage a few healthy cells in the process too.
Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors
These are small molecule chemical compounds that are left in the body. As the name suggests they have an inhibiting action on the cells that are cancerous. Tyrosine kinase inhibitors work inside the cells of the body and prevent cell communication between each other thus blocking growth and spread of cancer cells uncontrollably. This too is a targeted method that preserves healthy cells and prevents them from damage and destruction.
While opting for breast cancer treatment methods or opting for combination treatment, women have to get tested for HER2 which is known as Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2. This test can predict the outcome of treatment method adopted and also allow the best treatment option to be undertaken for breast cancer. If the patient has a positive result for HER2, that means that the cancer cells have abnormal quantities of HER2 genes which will facilitate quick spread and poor response to treatment methods. Identification of this gene is helpful in starting anti HER2 therapy and reducing the severity of cancer growth and hence increasing the life expectancy of the breast cancer patient.
Breast cancer is not a disease that kills if identified early. Ensuring that you choose the best treatment option available is important in deciding your life expectancy and preventing recurrence.