Breast Cancer Treatment

Welcome to the complex world of breast cancer treatment options.

We'll start by suggesting that you learn as much as you can about available breast cancer treatments by reading, talking to medical professionals and connecting with other breast cancer survivors.

We will outline the "standard treatments" available. Standard treatments are those currently used as treatment for breast cancer.

Please note that clinical trials are going on all over North America, all the time and you may want to consider taking part. A clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current breast cancer treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new breast cancer treatment is better, than the current standard treatments, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. This is scientific advancement in action.

There are also many alternative breast cancer treatments. You may want to familiarize yourself with these options as well. Deciding on the best and most appropriate breast cancer treatment for you or your loved one is a decision which needs the patient, family and health care team input. The team approach is an excellent model for support during a very stressful time.

Currently, there are four standard breast cancer treatments:

Breast Cancer Surgery: Most patients with breast cancer have surgery to remove the cancer from the breast.

Breast Cancer Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment which uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells.

Breast Cancer Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells; either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing.

Breast Cancer Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that blocks the action of hormones and stops cancer cells from growing.

According to the National Cancer Institute two other types of breast cancer treatment are being tested in clinical trials. These include the following:

Sentinel lymph node biopsy followed by surgery: Sentinel lymph node biopsy is the removal of the sentinel lymph node (the first lymph node the cancer is likely to spread to from the tumor) during surgery. A radioactive substance and/or blue dye is injected near the tumor. The substance or dye flows through the lymph ducts to the lymph nodes. The first lymph node to receive the substance or dye is removed for biopsy. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells. If cancer cells are not found, it may not be necessary to remove more lymph nodes. After the sentinel lymph node biopsy the surgeon removes the tumor (breast-conserving surgery or mastectomy).

High-dose chemotherapy with bone marrow transplantation or peripheral blood stem cell transplantation is a method of giving high doses of chemotherapy and replacing blood-forming cells destroyed by the breast cancer treatment. Stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the blood or bone marrow of the patient, or a donor, and are frozen and stored. After the chemotherapy is completed, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body's blood cells.

Studies have shown that high-dose chemotherapy followed by bone marrow transplantation or peripheral blood stem cell transplantation does not work better than standard chemotherapy in the treatment of breast cancer. Doctors have decided that, for now, high-dose chemotherapy should be tested only in clinical trials. Before taking part in such a trial, women should talk with their doctors about the serious side effects, including death, which may be caused by high-dose chemotherapy.

Suggested Reading:

The Breast Cancer Survival Manual: A Step-By-Step Guide for the Woman With Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer

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Breast Cancer Treatment