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Breast Cancer Treatment

There are two major goals of breast cancer treatment:

1) To rid the body of the cancer as completely as possible.
2) To prevent cancer from returning.
 

How Is the Type of Breast Cancer Treatment Determined?

The type of breast cancer treatment recommended for you will depend on the size of your tumor, the extent of disease in your lymph nodes and/or throughout your body (the stage), and the presence of the HER2 oncogene and endocrine receptors (estrogen and progesterone receptors). Age, menstrual status, underlying health issues, and personal preferences play a role in this decision making process as well.

 

What Are the Types of Breast Cancer Treatment?

Breast cancer treatments are local or systemic.

Local treatments are used to remove or destroy the disease within the breast and surrounding regions, such as lymph nodes. These include:

Systemic treatments are used to destroy or control cancer cells all over the body and include:

  • Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Side effects can include nausea, hair loss, early menopause, hot flashes, fatigue, and temporarily lowered blood counts.
  • Hormone therapy (endocrine therapy) such as tamoxifen in premenopausal and postmenopausal women and the aromatase inhibitors Arimidex, Aromasin, and Femara in postmenopausal women. Hormone therapy uses drugs to prevent hormones, especially estrogen, from promoting the growth of breast cancer cells that may remain after breast cancer surgery. Side effects can include hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
  • Biological Therapy such as Afinitor, Herceptin, Perjeta, or Tykerb, which work by using the body's immune system to destroy cancer cells. These drugs target breast cancer cells that have high levels of a protein called HER2.

Systemic therapy may be given after local treatment (adjuvant therapy) or before (neoadjuvant therapy). Adjuvant therapy is used after local treatments to kill any cancer cells that may remain in the body, but are undetectable.

You may have just one form of breast cancer treatment or a combination of treatments, depending on your needs.

Tips to Remember When Choosing Breast Cancer Treatment

Although there are some typical breast cancer treatment regimens, women do have choices.

  • Be sure to discuss with your doctor all the risks and benefits of each treatment option and how they relate to your own lifestyle.
  • Consider joining a support group to help you address the emotional issues surrounding your diagnosis and decide on a treatment
  • Ask your doctor about participating in a clinical trial.

 

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arnold Wax, MD on May 09, 2012
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