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Breast Cancer Health Center

Understanding Breast Cancer -- Diagnosis & Treatment

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What Are the Treatments for Breast Cancer? continued...

The type of radiation that most people know about is called external beam radiation. A machine focuses a beam of radiation on the tumor. It's the most common type of radiation therapy for breast cancer.

The other type is called brachytherapy. It delivers radiation to the cancer through radioactive seeds or pellets -- as small as grains of rice -- that doctors place inside the breast near the cancer. You can get brachytherapy by itself or with external beam radiation. Tumor size, location, and other things determine if this type of radiation is right for you.

Reconstructive Breast Surgery

After a mastectomy, reconstructive plastic surgery can replace breast tissue that doctors had to remove along with the cancer, including skin and the nipple.

The goal of reconstruction is to give the two breasts the same size and shape again. You might get breast implants, or doctors can move tissue from other parts of your body to your breast. Doctors can do it at the same time as the operation to remove the cancer or after you’re finished with chemotherapy or radiation.

Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer

When your doctor diagnoses you with breast cancer, she’ll see if lab tests show that your tumor depends on your natural hormones, estrogen or progesterone, to grow. If they do, she’ll call your disease estrogen-receptor-positive or progesterone-receptor-positive breast cancer.

Hormone therapy, also called endocrine therapy, blocks your body's natural hormones from reaching the cancer cells that use them. There are a few types. You can take drugs to block the effects of estrogen, have surgery to remove your ovaries (which make estrogen), or take medicine or have radiation to make the ovaries stop making the hormone.

The estrogen-blocking drug tamoxifen (Soltamox) is one of the most common hormone therapy drugs. Studies show that it lowers the chance that some early-stage cancers will come back and prevents cancer in the opposite breast. Tamoxifen works by blocking estrogen from attaching to cancer cells, which keeps them from growing.

Tamoxifen works for women before and after menopause. Most people take it for 5-10 years. While you take it, you should have a pelvic exam once a year, and let your doctor know if you have any unusual pain or bleeding.

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