What You Should Know about Breast Cancer: Part 3

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It has been a long ride as we embark on the journey to unravel some facts about breast cancer. Here is a recap is you miss it.

Here is Part One: Facts about Breast Cancer

Part Two is Here: Symptoms and Diagnosis

Part three is here, Let’s read on

How Is Breast Cancer Treated?

Your breast cancer’s stage, how far it has invaded, and how big the tumor has grown all play a large part in determining which treatments you will need.  Once your doctor has determined your cancer’s size, stage, and grade, the two of you can discuss your treatment options. Surgery is the most common treatment for breast cancer. In addition to surgery, most women with breast cancer undergo a complementary treatment, such as chemotherapy, radiation, or hormone therapy.

Surgery

Several types of surgery may be used to remove breast cancer, including:

Lumpectomy. This procedure removes only the suspicious or cancerous spot, leaving most surrounding tissue in place.

Mastectomy. In this procedure, a surgeon removes an entire breast. In a double mastectomy, both breasts are removed.

Sentinel node biopsy. This surgery removes some of the lymph nodes that receive drainage from the tumor. These lymph nodes will be tested, and if they don’t have cancer, you may not need additional lymph-removing surgery.

Axillary lymph node dissection. If lymph nodes removed during a sentinel node biopsy test positive, your doctor may perform this procedure to remove additional lymph nodes.

Contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. Even though breast cancer may be present in only one breast, some women elect to have a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. This surgery removes your healthy breast to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer again.

Radiation Therapy

High-powered beams of X-rays can be used to target and kill cancer cells. Most radiation treatments use a large machine on the outside of the body (external beam radiation).

Advances in cancer treatment have brought about the ability to radiate cancer from inside the body. This type of radiation treatment is called brachytherapy. To conduct brachytherapy, surgeons place radioactive seeds or pellets inside the body, near the tumor site. The seeds stay there for a short period of time each day and work to reduce cancer cells.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a drug that can destroy cancer cells. Some patients may undergo chemotherapy alone, but this type of treatment is often used in conjunction with other treatments, especially surgery.

In some cases, doctors prefer to give patients chemotherapy before surgery. The hope is that the medicine will shrink the tumor so the surgery will not have to be as invasive. Chemotherapy has many unwanted side effects, so discuss your concerns with your doctor before beginning treatment with this powerful drug.

Hormone Therapy

If your type of breast cancer is sensitive to hormones, your doctor may start you on therapy to block hormones to help slow and possibly stop the growth of your cancer. Estrogen and progesterone, two female hormones, can stimulate breast cancer tumor growth. Taking medicines to stop or block the production of these hormones may help slow the growth of your cancer.

Medications

Certain medications are designed to attack specific abnormalities or mutations within cancer cells. For example, Herceptin (trastuzumab) can block the production of the HER2 protein. HER2 helps breast cancer cells grow, so taking a medication to slow the protein production may help slow cancer growth.

Seeking Medical Help

If you detect an unusual lump or spot in your breast, make an appointment to see your doctor. Likewise, if you begin experiencing any of the symptoms of breast cancer without explanation, check to see if you can get an appointment with your doctor.

Conducting monthly self-examinations will help you detect changes in your breasts more quickly than if you examine yourself less frequently or not at all. Each year, during your annual check-up, your doctor should also check for changes in your breasts. Don’t be afraid to see your doctor about any suspicious spots. Early-stage breast cancer can often be treated easily and cured if found quickly enough. The longer breast cancer is allowed to grow, the more difficult treatment becomes.

Prevention

Breast cancer doesn’t have an identifiable cause. For that reason, it can’t be prevented entirely. However, several of the risk factors that may lead to breast cancer can be addressed through a healthy lifestyle and strategic measures.

Lifestyle Factors

For example, women who are obese have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Learning and maintaining a healthy diet may help lower your risk. The same goes for alcohol consumption. A daily glass of wine, spirits, or beer may not have a significant impact on your breast cancer risk, but having more than that each day may put you at a higher risk. Binge drinking also increases your risk for breast cancer.

Get regular exercise. Exercise helps shed unwanted pounds and can encourage you to maintain a healthier lifestyle.

Regular Screenings

Reduce the odds that your breast cancer will go undetected by having regular physical exams with your doctor. Many women should also receive yearly mammograms. Recommendations for mammograms are different for each woman, so talk with your doctor to see if you should get regular mammograms.

Self-Examination

You may be the best line in the fight against breast cancer. Regular self-exams can help you detect possible breast cancer tumors before they are able to grow too large. Conduct self-exams at least once a month. Talk with your doctor about how to conduct this test.

Preventive Measures

Women who have an increased risk of breast cancer because of an inherited factor, such as gene mutations, may wish to act in a preventive fashion. If you know you have an increased risk of breast cancer, you might want to consider having a prophylactic mastectomy. This procedure removes healthy breasts in order to cut your risk of developing breast cancer.

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