How is breast cancer treated?
If the tests find cancer, you and your doctor will develop a treatment plan to eradicate the breast cancer, to reduce the chance of cancer returning in the breast, as well as to reduce the chance of the cancer traveling to a location outside of the breast. Treatment generally follows within a few weeks after the diagnosis.
The type of treatment recommended will depend on the size and location of the tumor in the breast, the results of lab tests done on the cancer cells, and the stage, or extent, of the disease. Your doctor will usually consider your age and general health as well as your feelings about the treatment options.
Breast cancer treatments are local or systemic. Local treatments are used to remove, destroy, or control the cancer cells in a specific area, such as the breast. Surgery and radiation treatment are local treatments. Systemic treatments are used to destroy or control cancer cells all over the body. Chemotherapy and hormone therapy are systemic treatments. A patient may have just one form of treatment or a combination, depending on her individual diagnosis.
Surgery: Breast conservation surgery involves removing the cancerous portion of the breast and an area of normal tissue surrounding the cancer, while striving to preserve the normal appearance of the breast. This procedure has often been called a lumpectomy, also referred to as a partial mastectomy. Typically, some of the lymph nodes, either in the breast and/or under the arm are also removed for evaluation. Usually, six weeks of radiation therapy is then used to treat the remaining breast tissue. Most women who have a small, early-stage tumor are excellent candidates for this approach.
Mastectomy (removal of the entire breast) is another option. The mastectomy procedures performed today are not the same as the older, radical mastectomies. Radical mastectomies were extensive procedures that involved removing the breast tissue, skin, and chest-wall muscles. Today, mastectomy procedures do not ordinarily remove muscles and, for many women, mastectomies are accompanied by either immediate or delayed breast reconstruction.
What happens after the local breast cancer treatment?
Following local breast cancer treatment, the treatment team will determine the likelihood that the cancer will recur outside the breast. This team usually includes a medical oncologist, a specialist trained in using medicines to treat breast cancer. The medical oncologist, who works with the surgeon, may advise the use of the drugs like tamoxifen or anastrozole (ARIMIDEX®) or possibly chemotherapy. These treatments are used in addition to, but not in place of, local breast cancer treatment with surgery and/or radiation therapy.