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Breast Cancer Treatment

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Your doctor will refer you to a medical and/or surgical oncologist for treatment.  An oncologist is a doctor with special training in cancer and cancer treatments.  Treatment for breast cancer depends on many factors, including the stage of the cancer and the cancer cell type.  Cancer treatments include local treatment, systemic treatment, adjuvant therapy, and neoadjuvant therapy.

Local treatments treat the tumor without affecting the rest of the body.  Local treatments include surgery and radiation therapy.  Surgery removes the cancer cells from the body.  Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. 
 
Systemic treatments use medications or cancer-fighting drugs to treat cancer.  The medications are swallowed or administered directly into the bloodstream.  Systemic treatments include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy. 
 
Adjuvant therapy is used for suspected cancer cells that remain in the body after surgery.  In some cases, cancer cells may break away from the main tumor and spread through the bloodstream and start new tumors in other areas.  Adjuvant therapy is used to remove these hidden cells.  Neoadjuvant therapy includes systemic treatments, such as chemotherapy, that are given before surgery to shrink a tumor. 
 
The goals of treatment for Stage 0 though Stage III breast cancers are to treat the cancer and prevent it from spreading.  Stage IV breast cancer is generally not considered curable, and treatments are aimed at preventing symptoms and improving quality of life.  Breast cancer surgery and follow up treatments are very individualized.  Your doctor will discuss which options are best for you, as well as your expected recovery.

Most breast cancer tumors are treated with surgery.  There are several types of surgery for breast cancer.  Some of the most common types of breast cancer surgeries include lumpectomy, partial or segmental mastectomy, simple or total mastectomy, modified radical mastectomy, and radical mastectomy. 
 
A lumpectomy removes only the tumor and some healthy tissue around it.  It is considered a conservation therapy because only the affected area is removed from the breast.  A lumpectomy is typically followed with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.  A partial or segmental mastectomy removes the tumor and more of the breast tissue than a lumpectomy does.
 
The entire breast is removed with a simple or total mastectomy.  The lymph nodes under the arm and the muscle tissue beneath the breast are not removed.  A modified radical mastectomy removes the entire breast and some of the lymph nodes under the arm.  A radical mastectomy removes the entire breast, lymph nodes, and chest wall muscles underneath of the breast. 
 
Some further form of treatment usually follows all types of surgery.  This may include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or combinations of each.  These treatments may last for several months.

MammoSite® 5-day Targeted Radiation Therapy is an advanced high-dose radiation treatment that may be an alternative to mastectomy for some women.  Traditional radiation methods work to kill cancer cells, but in the process, also destroy some healthy tissue around the targeted area.  Mammosite following lumpectomy is a breast conservation therapy.  It spares as many healthy cells as possible because it directs a high-dose of radiation to only a specific area surrounding the lumpectomy cavity, the area where cancer recurrence is most likely to occur.  Additionally, the duration of treatment time for Mammosite is shorter than other radiation therapies, shortened from several weeks to just five days. 

In some cases, even with treatment, breast cancer can return.  This is termed “recurrent breast cancer.”  Recurrent breast cancer may come back near the original site or in distant organs.  Your doctor can explain your risk of recurrent cancer and possible treatments if it does recur. 
 
There are several options for women who choose to modify the appearance of their breast after breast cancer surgery.  Professionals can help you select special bras containing breast forms.  Breast forms are made of a variety of materials to replicate a natural breast.  Some women may choose to consult a cosmetic surgeon that specializes in breast reconstruction to have surgery to change the appearance of their breast.  Other women may choose to do nothing at all.  Breast modification and reconstruction is an individualized decision.  There is no right or wrong answer.  You should discuss your concerns with your doctor.  Your doctor can provide you with referrals that are appropriate for you.

The experience of cancer and cancer treatments can be an emotional process for people with cancer and their loved ones.  It is important that you receive support.  Some people find comfort in their family, friends, co-workers, and places of worship.  Cancer support groups are another good option.  They can be a good source of information and support from people who understand what you are experiencing.  Ask your doctor for cancer support group locations in your area.

Breast Cancer Treatment from SecondOpinions.com (Family Practice, Gynecology, Internal Medicine, Oncology, General Surgery)

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