Treatment and Outlook
Many options are available for breast cancer treatment. Here is an overview of the most common treatment components.
One way to treat breast cancer is to physically remove the cancerous cells through surgery. If a cancer is small and localized, a breast surgeon may suggest a “lumpectomy,” which removes the breast tumor itself and the tissue that is touching the breast tissue but leaves the majority of the breast intact. Another type of surgery removes an entire breast. This is known as a “mastectomy.” Some women may have both breasts removed, a process known as a “double mastectomy.” Both types of surgery can be psychologically difficult; however, breast surgery has come a long way in terms of being able to reconstruct and restore the cosmetic appearance of the breasts, depending on a patient’s goals and desires.
Like with any surgery, patients who undergo breast surgery may experience local swelling, bleeding, or bruising, and also risk the possibility of an infection. However, breast surgeons are experts at minimizing these possibilities.
Another way to disrupt a breast cancer is to target cancer cells with X-ray energy waves. Sometimes radiation is done in addition to a breast cancer surgery to make sure that no cancerous cells were left behind in the surgical removal. During radiation, patients will receive a daily dose of energy waves to the exact same site on the breast for a specific time period, usually a number of weeks.
Radiation side effects include skin irritation, redness, peeling, or swelling. Patients may also feel tired, nauseous, or sore, but symptoms improve after treatment ends.
Breast cancer chemotherapy can take on many forms. Sometimes it is used before surgery or radiation to shrink a tumor, and sometimes it is used afterward.
Chemotherapies are medications that kill cancer cells by specifically targeting cells in the body that are fast-growing. Unfortunately, they are usually not very selective, and chemotherapy medications can also kill some of the body’s own cells that are rapidly growing, such as cells found in the hair, the mouth, the blood, and the digestive system. For this reason, chemotherapy can cause symptoms like hair loss, altered taste, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, and bowel troubles. Other side effects of chemotherapy include changes in blood counts, nerve pain, decreased memory, and decreased fertility.
A medical oncologist can help improve many of these symptoms, and most will resolve after chemotherapy.
Other Breast Cancer Therapies
There are many other ways in which cancer treatment teams work to fight breast cancer. Depending on the nature of the cancer, hormonal therapies or immunotherapies may be used. Certain medications may also be used to reduce the chances of cancer recurring after it has gone into remission. Patients who have advanced forms of breast cancer may be able to use other therapies, as well as participate in cancer research studies.
You can learn more about breast cancer treatment options here.
Breast Cancer Outlook
Though a diagnosis of cancer can be very frightening, the outlook for patients diagnosed with breast cancer is extraordinary, thanks to years of devoted research and development. In fact, women with invasive localized breast cancer (which is the majority of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer) have a 99 percent five-year survival rate.
Being proactive about breast health by maintaining a healthy lifestyle can improve survival chances for patients who are diagnosed with a more advanced type of breast cancer, as well.
How to Learn More
You can learn more about breast cancer by visiting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s breast cancer information page. If you have any concerns about your own breast health, visit our women’s health information page, and make sure to follow up with your medical provider as soon as possible.