Understanding Our Treatments
Cancer treatment varies depending on the stage and type of cancer. A combination of therapies is most effective. For example, radiation may be used before surgery to shrink the tumor or after to make sure all the cancer has been removed.
The goal of surgery is to remove the tumors and any affected tissue.
• Lumpectomy: Removal of the breast cancer and some normal tissue around it. Often, some of the lymph nodes under the arm are also removed. This may also be called tylectomy or quadrantectomy.
• Segmentectomy: Removal of the cancer and a larger area of normal breast tissue around it.
• Simple mastectomy: Removal of the breast, or as much of the breast as possible. If the surgeon removes some lymph nodes for biopsy, it is done with a separate incision. This is the most common surgery for breast cancer treatment.
• Skin-sparing mastectomy: The same amount of tissue is removed as with a simple mastectomy, but the skin over the breast is spared. This can be used when immediate breast reconstruction surgery is planned. A variation of this procedure also can spare the nipple and areola. This may not be an option for all women.
• Modified radical mastectomy: Removal of the whole breast, the lymph nodes under the arm and, often, the lining over the chest muscles.
• Radical mastectomy: Removal of the breast, both chest muscles, the lymph nodes under the arm, and some additional fat and skin. This procedure is only considered in rare cases. It is done if the cancer has spread to the chest muscles.
• Sentinel lymph node biopsy : A small amount of blue dye and/or a radioactive tracer is placed in the area where the tumor was located. The lymph nodes that pick up the substance are removed. Those remaining lymph nodes should be removed if any sentinel nodes contain cancer. This method is usually done in women who do not have lymph nodes that can be felt in the armpit.
• Axillary lymph node dissection: Removal of the lymph nodes under the arm. This is done to help determine whether cancer cells have entered the lymphatic system.
• Cryotherapy: Extreme cold is used to freeze and destroy cancer cells. Cryotherapy is considered to be experimental at this time.
Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The main types of radiation include:
• External radiation therapy: Radiation directed at the breast from a source outside the body.
• Internal radiation therapy: Radioactive materials are placed into the breast in or near the cancer cells.
• Microwave thermotherapy: Used to bring cancer cells to a high temperature. This may make them more sensitive to when exposed to traditional radiation therapy treatment. It is early in the research process and may not be available in all areas.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms including pill, injection, or IV. The drugs enter the bloodstream. They travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells. Some healthy cells are killed as well.
The following therapies may be used in conjunction with chemotherapy:
• The use of medications or substances made by the body to treat cancer. Biologic response modifier (BRM) therapy is the use of medications to increase or restore the body’s natural defenses against cancer.
• Treats specific characteristics of cancer cells by altering how the body responds to them. For example, medications can block the growth of new blood vessels or block chemical signals that allow cancer cells to grow and function.
• Designed to take advantage of the fact that many breast cancers are estrogen sensitive. Estrogen binds to the estrogen-sensitive cells and stimulates them to grow and divide. Anti-estrogen drugs prevent the binding of estrogen. This stops the cells from growing and prevents or delays breast cancer from returning.
Cancer treatments can cause some side effects like nausea, anemia, pain, or bone loss. Other medications or treatments may be needed to minimize these problems throughout your cancer treatment.