Marisa Weiss, M.D., the President and Founder of BreastCancer.org – the most visited informational website about breast cancer - spoke about treatment options:
- Breast cancer surgery is the most common treatment and typically the first option for patients diagnosed with breast cancer. The goal with breast cancer surgery is to excise the tumor before it is able to spread further. The doctor may also check the “margins” of breast tissue for evidence of breast cancer cells and will tell you following surgery if your remaining breast tissue is free of cancer cells. Certain individuals with stage 2 or 3 breast cancer may receive chemotherapy before undergoing surgery. This is known as “neoadjuvant chemotherapy” and will help shrink the tumor down to help preserve remaining breast tissue.
- Chemotherapy is a breast cancer treatment approach that employs a combination of drugs with the purpose of either eliminating or slowing the growth of cancer cells. Cytotoxic drugs are capable of killing cancer cells and are typically delivered either orally or directly into the bloodstream intravenously. Chemotherapy delivers drugs through the bloodstream throughout the entire body. An oncologist will determine if chemotherapy would be beneficial to a patient based on several factors such as tumor type, grade, and size in addition to the types of receptors present and the number of lymph nodes involved.
- Radiation therapy (or radiotherapy) employs highly focused beams of energy to kill cancer cells. Its goal is to only impact cells in the targeted treatment area of the body. Radiation therapy may be used if there are cancer cells remaining in the breast or armpit following surgery. The radiation is capable of destroying hidden cancer cells and can lower the risk of cancer recurrence in the affected breast area. External beam breast cancer radiation delivers traditional cancer killing rays via a large machine. Internal breast cancer radiation is a newer treatment that implants radioactive holders into the affected area to kill cancer cells.
- Hormone therapy involves the use of medications that help destroy cancer cells that are reliant on hormones for growth. First, a pathologist will perform tests on breast cancer cells to establish if they have receptors that sensitive to estrogen or progesterone, potentially aiding their growth. If such receptors are present, your oncologist may recommend hormone therapy drugs such as inhibitors or blockers to aid in destroying the cancer cells. The most commonly employed hormone therapy drug is Tamoxifen and is capable of preventing estrogen dependent cancer cells from growing. In general, using hormone therapy and chemotherapy together can potentially have a much greater effect when combined when compared to using each alone.
- Targeted therapy uses medications that block breast cancer cell growth in certain specific ways, potentially reducing side effects. These newer, more effective treatments are capable of attacking specific breast cancer cells without harming normal, healthy cells. For example, one targeted therapy may block the processes surrounding an abnormal protein (HER2) that stimulates the progression of breast cancer cells. Targeted drugs such as trastuzumab (Herceptin) or lapatinib (TYKERB) may be given to a patient whose lab tests reveal her breast tumor has too much of the HER2 protein. Currently, targeted therapy is being used in combination with traditional chemotherapy.
Breastcancer.org is an online resource for medical and personal information on breast health and breast cancer. The website is dedicated to raising breast cancer awareness and contains critical information for patients, families, and anyone with an interest in learning about breast cancer.
Dr. Weiss adds, “We’d love to stop breast cancer from happening in the beginning. But if someone is diagnosed, we want to give her the best opportunity for early detection. And if she is facing a breast cancer diagnosis, we want to give her the best options for treatment, within surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy. This is in addition to complementary therapies such as mindfulness, nutrition, exercise and conditioning, supplementation, and massage therapies. We try to present the best of both worlds. When you’re diagnosed with breast cancer it’s important to remember it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It will be one of your top three health issues for the rest of your life. You always have to be mindful of it.”
Written by Stuart Diamond