Being diagnosed with breast cancer is scary. What is almost as scary is thinking about what treatments you will soon have to endure. Most patients' minds instantly go to surgery and chemotherapy. Indeed, many cases of breast cancer are treated with surgery and chemo — but these are only two of the 5 Big Ones, which are the breast cancer treatment options available. To help you better understand what your true treatment options might be, take a look at each of the 5 Big Ones below.
Surgery is part of most breast cancer treatment plans. Some women need mastectomies, which are procedures to remove the entire breast. However, if the cancer is caught early, the surgeon can often just do a lumpectomy, which means only the affected tissue is removed. Recovery from a lumpectomy is faster, and less reconstructive surgery is needed.
Chemotherapy is not usually needed for early-stage breast cancer that has not spread past the breasts. However, it will be a huge part of the treatment for cancers that have spread to the lymph nodes. Chemotherapy is usually administered intravenously. You will need a series of treatments over a period of several weeks. Its goal is to slow the growth of cancer cells.
Radiation therapy involves using high-energy beams to directly kill cancer cells. Usually, radiation is performed after surgery in order to kill any cancer cells that might remain around the edge of the tumor that was removed. Most patients need a couple of treatments spaced a couple of days apart. The treatment only takes a few minutes at a time.
Many cases of breast cancer are related to hormone imbalances. Plus, breast tissue responds to the sex hormone estrogen and progesterone, so administering these hormones in controlled doses may help thwart certain types of cancer or stop them from coming back. Hormone therapy may be used in combination with surgery for more minor cases of breast cancer.
Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that involves stimulating your own immune system to attack the cancer cells. You may receive a blood infusion that contains immune cells against certain types of cancer cells. Other forms of immunotherapy involve injections of certain antibodies. Immunotherapy does not cause a lot of the side effects associated with chemotherapy and radiation, so doctors are trying to use it more and more often for breast cancer.
Most patients with breast cancer are prescribed a combination of the treatments above. Every case is different, and your doctor will devise a unique treatment strategy for you.