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Understanding Breast Cancer -- Diagnosis & Treatment

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

Chemotherapy or endocrine therapy may also be given as the main treatment for women whose cancer has spread to parts of the body outside of the breast and lymph nodes.

Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

Radiation therapy is usually given after a lumpectomy and sometimes after a mastectomy to reduce the risk of cancer coming back in the same breast. The radiation treatments generally start several weeks after the surgery so the area has some time to heal. If your doctor recommends chemotherapy along with radiation therapy, the chemotherapy should be given before you start radiation therapy.

The type of breast cancer radiation that most people are familiar with is called external beam radiation. It's also the type most commonly used in cases of breast cancer. External beam radiation works by focusing a beam of radiation from a machine to its target, the area of the body affected by cancer.     

The other type of breast cancer radiation is called brachytherapy. This type delivers radiation to the cancer internally using an implant. In the case of breast cancer, radioactive seeds or pellets -- as small as grains of rice -- are placed inside the breast near the cancer. Brachytherapy can be used alone or with external beam radiation. Tumor size, location, and other factors will determine if someone is a candidate for this type of radiation.

Radiation can be given over several days to several weeks. 

Reconstructive Breast Surgery

Reconstructive plastic surgery for breast cancer is performed to replace skin, breast tissue, and the nipple removed during mastectomy. The amount of missing tissue varies with each mastectomy. Factors contributing to the amount of tissue removed include the width, size, and location of the original tumor, and its proximity to the armpit (called the axilla), where the lymph glands are removed.

The ultimate goal for reconstruction is to restore symmetry between the two breasts. Reconstructive breast surgery can usually be done at the time of the original surgery for the cancer or after the completion of adjuvant therapy (chemotherapy or radiotherapy).

Endocrine Therapy for Breast Cancer

If lab tests show that your tumor depended on your natural hormones to grow, it will be called estrogen-receptor-positive or progesterone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Such tumors are often sensitive to treatments, called endocrine therapy.

Endocrine (or hormone) therapy is used to prevent the growth, spread, or recurrence of breast cancer by blocking your body's natural hormones from reaching any remaining cancer cells.

Endocrine therapy is the use of medicines that block the effects of estrogen, or having surgery to remove the ovaries or medication or radiation to make the ovaries unable to produce hormones.

The estrogen-blocking drug tamoxifen is one of the most common hormonal therapy drugs. It has been shown to decrease the chance of recurrence in some early-stage cancers and to prevent the development of cancer in the opposite breast. Tamoxifen works by blocking estrogen from attaching to estrogen receptors on cancer cells. It is believed that blocking the estrogen receptors will halt the growth of the cancer cells.

WebMD Medical Reference

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