Breast cancer treatment
Breast cancer treatment decisions will depend on how far the cancer has spread, the location of the tumour, the type of breast cancer, a women's general health and whether she's been through the menopause.
The aim of breast cancer treatment is to remove as much of the cancer as possible and to help prevent it from coming back.
What are the types of breast cancer treatment?
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. They include:
- Surgery, either mastectomy or ’conservative surgery’, which includes lumpectomy (wide local excision) where only the lump is removed, and quadrantectomy, where a larger part of the breast is removed - with sentinel lymph node removal.
Systemic treatments are used to destroy or control cancer cells all over the body. They include:
- Chemotherapy which uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Side effects can include nausea, hair loss, early menopause, hot flushes, fatigue and temporarily lowered blood counts.
- Hormone therapy, including tamoxifen, and the aromatase inhibitors anastrozole , exemestane and letrozole . Hormone therapy uses drugs to prevent hormones, especially oestrogen, from promoting the growth of breast cancer cells that may remain after breast cancer surgery. Side effects can include hot flushes and vaginal dryness.
- Biological therapy, for example trastuzumab, works by using the body's immune system to destroy cancer cells. It targets breast cancer cells that have high levels of a protein called HER2.
Systemic therapy can be given after local treatment (adjuvant therapy) or before (neoadjuvant therapy). Adjuvant therapy is used after local treatments to kill any cancer cells that remain anywhere in the body.
A patient may have just one form of treatment or a combination, depending on her needs.
Tips to remember about choosing breast cancer treatment
Although there are some typical treatment regimens used to treat breast cancer, women do have choices.
- Discuss with your doctor all the risks and benefits of each option and how they relate to your own lifestyle.
- Consider joining a support group to help you address the emotional issues surrounding your diagnosis and therapy choices.
- Ask your doctor about participating in a clinical trial.