Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women worldwide, accounting for nearly 30% of all cancers diagnosed. It is estimated that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer throughout their lifetime. The good news is that when caught early enough, many women with breast cancer can be completely cured and may continue to live long, healthy lives without any trace of disease.
While some forms of breast cancers are more easily cured than others, knowing what options are available can be extremely comforting during treatment. Therefore, in this article, we will discuss how breast cancer is treated in detail, so you can have a clear picture of what the treatment entails.
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The Most Common Symptoms
The most common symptoms of breast cancer are a new lump in the breast, changes to the skin of the breast including swelling or dimpling, redness or flaky skin, changes to existing lumps including pain or fluid build-up, enlargement or distortion of the nipple, and discharge from nipples other than during breastfeeding. Other symptoms can include bone pain, which may be due to the spread of cancer into areas such as the ribs. Although not all of these breast cancer symptoms indicate that you have breast cancer, you should consult with your doctor immediately if any one of these symptoms arises. The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the better your odds of curing it.
When your doctor finds that you have breast cancer, they will most likely do a few diagnostic tests to determine the severity of the condition and where the cancer is located to recommend the right course of action for treating it. Diagnostic tests can include: mammograms, MRI scans, biopsy procedures (such as core needle biopsy or fine-needle aspiration; both are minimally invasive), an ultrasound, etc. Based on this information, your doctor will be able to make a diagnosis and decide what stage your cancer is in, which will help them decide how to go about treating it. Since every diagnosis is unique, you must remain as cooperative and as positive as possible, so your doctor can work with you to come up with a treatment plan that works best for your case.
Stages Of Breast Cancer
When diagnosing breast cancer, doctors determine what stage the disease is in. This will help them figure out how to best go about treating it. There are four stages of breast cancer: Stage 0, Stage I, Stage II, and Stage III. There is also a fifth stage, which is known as “Stage IV” or “metastatic.” Each stage has a distinct prognosis and treatment plan. Depending on your diagnosis, there are several treatment methods available including radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapies like Tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors (AIs), and more.
If your doctor decides that the most effective treatment for you is radiation therapy, they will recommend this to reduce or eliminate breast cancer cells. Radiation can be used with other forms of treatment, such as chemotherapy, hormone therapies, etc., but it can also be used on its own. The goal is to kill cancerous cells and shrink tumors so that more invasive procedures like lumpectomy or mastectomy are not necessary. Also called radiotherapy, this form of treatment uses high-energy rays (such as X-rays) to destroy any remaining cancerous cells after surgery has removed them. This type of treatment can be used in conjunction with other methods, but it can also be used on its own to keep cancer from returning.
Another option available to breast cancer patients is surgery. Breast cancer surgery, also known as mastectomy or breast-conserving therapy (BCT), is the removal of all or part of a breast and nearby lymph nodes and tissues to treat and eliminate cancerous cells in the affected area. This type of therapy is usually less expensive than other forms of treatment since it does not require long-term follow-up care as radiation does, but there are some instances where doctors may recommend that you receive radiation after your surgery for extra precaution. There are also several different types of mastectomy depending on your specific diagnosis, which you should discuss with your doctor.
Some physicians may recommend lumpectomy as an alternative to mastectomy. During a lumpectomy, the affected tissue is surgically removed and then biopsied to determine if cancer cells were successfully eliminated or if additional surgery will be needed. Doctors often perform either breast-conserving therapy or lumpectomy along with other forms of treatment, such as radiation or hormone therapies.
Another option available to patients with Stage I, II, and III who do not have metastatic disease is chemotherapy, which involves administering powerful drugs designed to kill fast-growing cells such as tumor cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed. Chemotherapy is a systemic therapy, meaning it affects cells throughout the entire body and not just within the breast cancer tissue itself.
However, some cancer cells may have a lower sensitivity to chemotherapy drugs than others do. In this case, doctors will administer a combination of chemo and another type of treatment, such as hormonal therapies or radiation therapy, to kill off more cancer cells and make room for stronger chemotherapeutic treatments with less damaging side effects. When the metastatic disease is present (Stage IV), typically only hormone therapies will be used since they can help reduce tumor size and stop its progression for several months or years before you need to consider other options like surgery or clinical trials.
Hormonal therapy is a type of systemic therapy that is a non-surgical treatment option for some breast cancer patients with estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) tumors. It uses either pills, injections, skin patches, or gels to decrease the amount of estrogen your body makes and/or stop it from binding to estrogen receptors where cancerous cells thrive. They may also be referred to as endocrine therapies because they affect hormone activity within the endocrine system – namely your pituitary gland, which secretes hormones like estrogen and progesterone into your bloodstream. There are several different types of hormonal therapies including tamoxifen, raloxifene, fulvestrant, anastrozole, letrozole, exemestane, and others.
As you can see, there are many options when it comes to treating breast cancer. Depending on the type and stage of cancer a person has, a doctor may recommend one or several forms of treatment. The most important thing is to listen to your doctor’s recommendations carefully and make all necessary lifestyle changes to receive proper care. Only this way, you can be on your way to full recovery and live a cancer-free life.