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Understanding Breast Cancer -- Diagnosis & Treatment

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

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).

Hormone 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 hormone therapy or endocrine therapy.

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.

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

The estrogen-blocking drug tamoxifen (Soltamox, Nolvadex) 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 (Arimidex), exemestane (Aromasin), letrozole (Femara). They block the production of estrogen in the body by preventing conversion of testosterone into estrogen, thus lowering the levels of estrogen in the blood. Aromatase inhibitors only work in postmenopausal women and are superior to tamoxifen.

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