Understanding Breast Cancer -- Diagnosis & Treatment
What Are the Treatments for Breast Cancer? continued...
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.
Tamoxifen is effective in pre- and post-menopausal women.
Other types of hormone therapy are called aromatase inhibitors -- examples are anastrozole, letrozole, and exemestane. They block the production of estrogen in the body by preventing conversion of testosterone to estrogen, thus lowering the levels of estrogen in the blood. Aromatase inhibitors only work in postmenopausal women and are superior to tamoxifen in postmenopausal women, with breast cancer.
While on tamoxifen, you should continue to have your yearly pelvic exams, and notify your doctor of any unusual bleeding or pain. The typical length of time you will take tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors is five to 10 years.