Finding out that you have breast cancer and will soon need to undergo treatment can leave you feeling numb. But reading about the options your doctor talks about will enable you to make better sense of your choices.
Variety of treatments
Treatment choices depend on many factors including the type of woman breast cancer, the size of the tumor, the stage of the breast cancer to which the disease has progressed, your age and general health, the overall treatment regimen chosen, and your individual response to treatment as it proceeds.
The most common methods you and your doctor will choose from include:
- Surgery. Almost every woman with breast cancer will have some form of surgery to remove cancer from the breast.
- Radiation and chemotherapy. Together or separately, these treatments are frequently used to destroy any cancer cells left behind after surgery. Small, early-stage cancers may not require these treatments, or may only call for one or the other.
- Hormone therapy. Hormone-blocking procedures or drugs may also be used to target breast cancers that use female hormones to grow.
Other treatments for breast cancer worth investigating:
- Clinical trials. Women with recurrent or advanced disease, those with particular family histories, or those who want the most aggressive treatment available may opt to get involved in a clinical trial. Clinical trials are doctor-supervised, carefully planned tests of the newest cancer treatments. Many cancer centers and large hospitals perform these treatment tests. If you are interested in joining a clinical trial, ask your doctor for more information.
Alternative therapies. Alternative therapies (also called complementary therapies) can play an important role in breast cancer treatment. Herbs, meditation, nutrition counseling, yoga, and other methods combine well with conventional medicine. Alternative therapies can ease physical side effects and address the stress and emotional difficulty that dealing with woman breast cancer often brings. Be sure to tell your doctor about any alternative therapy you add to your cancer treatment regimen; not all herbs combine well with chemotherapy or hormone therapy.
Emotional effects of treatment
Breast cancer is an emotionally charged and fearful subject. Besides being a life-threatening disease, woman breast cancer affects a part of the body that plays a large role in the self-image and sexuality of many women. Complete treatment should extend beyond eradicating cancer to address the emotional and psychological impact of the disease.
A support group can be a safe place for a woman with breast cancer to express her fear, anger, or grief. A 1989 study at Stanford University showed that women with advanced breast cancer who attended weekly support groups were less depressed and had less pain than women who didn’t go to meetings. Later results were even more positive: The women in the support groups lived an average of 18 months longer than the others. It’s likely that the hospital or clinic where you are being treated offers at least one support group. Inquire about it, and go.
One-on-one counseling is another emotionally healing option. Consult a trained psychologist or psychiatrist who has experience in guiding people through serious illness.
You can also use your computer to locate emotional support. Online bulletin boards or chat rooms are places to ask for feedback from other women who have had breast cancer. PlanetRx has a message board specifically devoted to women who are concerned about or who have breast cancer.
Reconstructive surgery woman breast cancer
Breast reconstruction is not an automatic part of breast cancer surgery. In fact, many women opt to accept their bodies in their new, changed state. If you do choose to have surgery to reconstruct your breast, it can be done at the same time as your mastectomy or later.
Breast implants containing saline (salt water) are commonly available and considered relatively safe (outside of the risks inherent in any surgery). Silicone-gel-filled implants are associated with some short- and long-term health problems, especially if the implants leak. These concerns have prompted the FDA to make silicone implants available only through approved clinical trials.
In a more complex type of reconstruction, the surgeon rebuilds the breast using tissue taken from other parts of your own body, such as the abdomen, buttocks, or back. This is major surgery that results in large surgical wounds and requires extended healing time.
If you choose reconstruction, your doctor can help you decide which method is appropriate for you. He or she should also spell out the risks associated with each procedure.
The following sections cover the various phases of breast cancer treatment in more detail.
Surgical Options woman breast cancer
Virtually every woman with breast cancer will need surgery as part of her treatment. But surgery for woman breast cancer doesn’t necessarily mean mastectomy. That is especially true these days when small early-stage tumors often allow surgeons to use other, less drastic techniques that remove only as much breast tissue as necessary.
Lumpectomy is the most common breast cancer surgery. During lumpectomy, the surgeon removes just the tumor along with a small rim of healthy tissue, and leaves the rest of the breast intact. Also known as breast-conserving surgery, lumpectomy has become more common in the last 10 years as a means of treating small breast cancers, as well as some larger tumors. Surgery to remove the lump is usually followed by radiation to the remaining tissue in the affected breast.
Because breast cancer can spread to the lymph nodes under the armpit, a surgery called axillary dissection is often done to remove and examine those nodes. More and more doctors are using a new technique called sentinel node biopsy instead of axillary dissection. Sentinel node biopsy locates, removes, and examines just the first (sentinel) node into which the breast drains, rather than the multiple axillary (armpit) nodes. This option can prevent unnecessarily extensive surgery and reduce the risk of lymphedema for women whose cancers have not spread past the sentinel node.
In simple mastectomy the surgeon removes the entire breast, but does not remove the armpit lymph nodes. This surgery is used when cancer is scattered throughout the breast, but remains confined to the ducts (ductal cancer) and so has almost no chance of spreading to the lymph nodes.
Modified radical mastectomy
During modified radical mastectomy the entire breast is removed along with many of the underarm lymph nodes and sometimes part of the chest wall muscle. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormonal therapy may follow.
Some healthy women at extremely high risk for breast cancer choose simple mastectomy of both breasts as a preventive measure. This procedure is considered controversial, and the protective benefits, if any, have yet to be proven.
Radical mastectomy, once the sole option for woman breast cancer, is a highly invasive surgery that today is performed only when less radical procedures won’t do. In this procedure, the surgeon removes the entire breast, as well as underlying chest wall muscles. All of the armpit lymph nodes are also removed, to try to stop the spread of cancer there. Today, this surgery is reserved for very large tumors that are connected to the chest wall or have spread to the chest muscle.