Know­ing your op­tions when seek­ing cancer treat­ment

The Saline Courier Weekend - - LIVING -

For the most part, breast cancer is quite treat­able. Much of its treata­bil­ity de­pends on what stage the cancer is when di­ag­nosed — the ear­lier, the bet­ter. The Na­tional Cancer In­sti­tute, a branch of the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health, lists sev­eral op­tions for treat­ment — surgery, ra­di­a­tion, chemo­ther­apy and hor­mone or tar­geted ther­apy. Some­times, surgery is all that’s needed; in other cases, cancer pa­tients may need sev­eral of these types of treat­ment to fight the tu­mor.


Al­most all peo­ple with breast cancer will re­quire surgery. Pa­tients may get a lumpec­tomy, in which the tu­mor, other af­fected tis­sue and the sur­round­ing nor­mal tis­sue are ar­rived. In the early stages of cancer, this may be suf­fi­cient. For more ad­vanced cancer, a to­tal mas­tec­tomy, or re­moval of the en­tire breast that is in­fected with cancer, or a dou­ble mas­tec­tomy may be re­quired. Many pa­tients with one or both breasts re­moved opt for fol­low-up re­con­struc­tive surgery af­ter treat­ment. Breast cancer of­ten spreads to lymph nodes first, so re­mov­ing some of

those nodes may be nec­es­sary. Doc­tors may opt to re­move the first lymph node to re­ceive drainage from a tu­mor, known as a sen­tinel lymph node, since that is where cancer is like­li­est to spread.

Ra­di­a­tion and Chemo­ther­apy

Chemo­ther­apy, which pumps heavy drugs into the body to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells, can be used be­fore surgery to shrink a tu­mor or af­ter surgery to kill any cancer cells still in the body. Done be­fore surgery, this can lessen the amount of tis­sue that needs to be re­moved. Ra­di­a­tion, in which X-rays are used to de­stroy cancer cells, can be used af­ter surgery. Both treat­ments have been shown to help peo­ple sur­vive cancer, but they also se­ri­ous and harm­ful side ef­fects on the pa­tient.

Hor­mone and Tar­geted Ther­apy

Both of these treat­ments are used af­ter surgery with the pur­pose of killing any re­main­ing cancer cells. Hor­mone ther­apy gets rid of hor­mones, which can cause breast cancer to grow, so re­duc­ing the pro­duc­tion of hor­mones like es­tro­gen or stop­ping them from feed­ing the cancer can help to de­stroy cancer cells still in the body.

Tar­geted ther­apy uses drugs to tar­get spe­cific cancer cells without hurt­ing healthy cells; this can in­clude an­ti­bod­ies, which de­liver cancer-fight­ing drugs to the cancer cells in­stead of at­tack­ing ev­ery cell.

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