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Breast Cancer Treatment

Q: How is breast cancer treated? 

Dr. Donnica:
Once a breast cancer is detected, several treatments options are available, depending on the stage of the cancer; the type of the cancer; and a woman's particular health status, values and preferences, and her risk/benefit ratio. Your doctor will give recommendations, but the choices are yours.

Local treatment options, such as surgery and radiation, focus on trying to remove or destroy the cancer cells within the breast. Systemic treatments, such as chemotherapy and hormone therapy, aim to destroy the cancer cells that may have already spread through the body.  Basic treatment strategies include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy.  There are several options within each of these categories. 

Surgery no longer means removing the whole breast. Lumpectomy removes a small tumor and a margin of normal tissue around it.  Lymph nodes from under arm may also be removed to find out if the cancer has spread. Often, lumpectomy is followed by radiation to be sure that any remaining cancer cells are destroyed. Modified radical mastectomy is surgical removal of the entire breast, some lymph nodes under the arm and even the lining over the chest muscles. This may be recommended when the breast tumor is found in more than one part of the breast.  A radical mastectomy does the same thing, except that it also removes all of the chest muscle as well. This used to be quite common, but is now only used when the tumor has spread to the chest wall.  Clinical studies now show that both options provide the same long-term survival rates for most types of early cancer.

Chemotherapy uses drugs, or drug combinations, which are quite toxic to cancer cells. Unfortunately, they are usually toxic to normal tissues as well.

Hormone therapy simply prevents the cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow. 

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Created: 10/16/2000  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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