What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer is defined by an increase in the number of very abnormal cells within the milk ducts and lobules of the breast. These cancer cells grow rapidly, and eventually they can break out of the ducts or lobules into normal surrounding breast tissue, a process called invasion or infiltration. Once the cells become invasive, they might spread beyond the breast to lymph nodes and other organs via the bloodstream, a process referred to as metastasis.
How is breast cancer treated?
There are two types of treatment for breast cancer. The first type is referred to as local therapy. Local therapy involves treating the breast tissue itself to lessen the chance of recurrence. This treatment can be accomplished by either an approach called breast conservation (lumpectomy with radiation) or an approach called mastectomy.
The second type of treatment is called systemic therapy. Systemic therapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells that have spread beyond the breast. The majority of individuals with breast cancer benefit from both local and systemic treatment.
What is breast conservation treatment?
Breast conservation treatment preserves normal breast tissue while removing the cancer. Breast conservation is effective only if the entire area of breast cancer can be removed with an acceptable appearance afterward. Following removal of the cancer, the remaining breast tissue is treated for several weeks with radiation therapy. However, some recent information suggests a possible benefit of radiation therapy following mastectomy for some individuals.
Why are lymph nodes removed?
Lymph nodes under the arm can be the first site where breast cancer spreads. The only way to determine whether breast cancer has spread to the lymph nodes is to remove and analyze them. Lymph node removal is reserved for individuals who have invasive breast cancer, whether they have breast conservation or a mastectomy. Information from lymph node analysis is used to determine whether systemic therapy should follow the local treatment. A new procedure called sentinel lymph node biopsy can be performed in an effort to remove fewer lymph nodes.
What is breast reconstruction?
Many individuals who have a mastectomy choose breast reconstruction. Breast reconstruction is accomplished by using either an expandable prosthesis or one's own tissue, which is usually transferred from the lower abdomen. This latter procedure is called a DIEP flap procedure (deep inferior epigastric perforator), or transverse myocutaneous flap (TRAM) procedure. Reconstruction can be done at the time of the mastectomy or at any time thereafter. However, reconstruction after radiation therapy can be more challenging.
- Breastcancer.org. Treatment & Side Effects. www.breastcancer.org Accessed 5/11/2012
- American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer: Treating Breast Cancer Topics: How is breast cancer treated? www.cancer.org Accessed 5/11/2012
- American Cancer Society. Breast Cancer: Breast Reconstruction after Mastectomy: What is breast reconstruction? www.cancer.org Accessed 5/11/2012
- UpToDate. Patient information: Surgery for breast cancer — Mastectomy and breast conserving therapy (Beyond the Basics). www.uptodate.com Accessed 5/11/2012
© 1995-2012 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.
Can't find the health information you’re looking for?
This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 4/10/2012...#5563