Breast Cancer Treatments
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Radiation and surgery followed by chemotherapy are some of the breast cancer treatments available to patients. Find out more treatment options in this video.
Transcript: There are more than two million breast cancer survivors in the United States, and that's to the credit...
There are more than two million breast cancer survivors in the United States, and that's to the credit of today's growing number of treatment options! Breast cancer treatment goals are twofold: to remove as much of the cancer as possible and to prevent it from coming back. To do that, doctors rely on five treatment methods: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy. Surgery is the most common treatment option, and it may involve removing just the cancerous tumor, as in a lumpectomy. More serious prognoses may require a mastectomy, the removal of the entire breast, usually including the nipple, often with lymph nodes in the armpit that may be affected. Many women who go through surgery receive additional treatment, like radiation, which uses high powered beams of energy to kill cancer cells. This can occur via an external machine, or through radioactive implants placed inside the body. Side-effects of radiation include a red rash at the treatment site, along with general fatigue. Radiation AND surgery are local treatments, made to eradicate cancer in one, targeted area. The remaining three treatment options are systemic, which means they attempt to control cancer cells ALL OVER the body. Chemotherapy, for example, is an oral or injected medication, that works by either stopping cancer cells from multiplying, or killing them completely. Unfortunately, chemo may also eradicate HEALTHY cells, which is why nausea, vomiting, hair loss and fever tend to occur. Another systemic treatment, hormone therapy, is effective for about two-thirds of cancers. Cancer cells contain receptors for estrogen, which they depend upon to grow. Hormone therapy seeks to block the body's estrogen from ever reaching the tumor. Tamoxifen is one such drug. It binds to estrogen receptors on cells, so that estrogen can't. Aromatase inhibitors, like the Arimedex and Femara, can reduce the body's production of estrogen while stopping it altogether in post-menopausal women. Menopausal-like symptoms, including decreased sex drive, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness, are common side-effects of hormone therapy. The final treatment option, targeted therapy, uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack ONLY specific cancer cells, leaving healthy cells intact. A popular example, Herceptin, blocks a protein called HER2, which some breast cancer cells need to grow and survive. Understand that targeted therapy of this type will ONLY work if the cancer is sensitive to the HER2 protein. This is true for about one-fourth of all cancers, and is determined by analyzing tissue samples in a lab. Any of these three systemic treatments may be used with the goal of killing any cancer cells that remain in the body after surgery or radiation, which is known as adjuvant therapy. Similarly, systemic treatments may be used BEFORE local treatments, hopefully shrinking a tumor and making it easier to remove. With so many treatment options available, creating the perfect plan to treat YOUR form of breast cancer shouldn't be hard. See your doctor and discuss your options.More »
Last Modified: 2014-06-10 | Tags »
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If you're at a higher risk of breast cancer, should you consider a preventive mastectomy? Maybe. Find out more about this procedure, its benefits and other information in this video.
Transcript: Breast cancer affects almost 200,000 new patients annually. To avoid being part of this statistic, some...
Breast cancer affects almost 200,000 new patients annually. To avoid being part of this statistic, some high risk women opt to have one or both of their breasts surgically removed in a procedure called preventative mastectomy, or prophylactic mastectomy. This can mean removing the total breast and nipple, called a total mastectomy. Or, it might entail eradicating the breast tissue, but leaving the nipple intact, as in subcutaneous mastectomy. Does preventative mastectomy have drawbacks? Well, the biggest downside is that breast tissue in the armpit, along the collarbone, and on the upper part of the chest wall could possibly be missed in mastectomy. It's impossible to remove every single cell, so a chance that cancer will still develop in the breast remains. And as with all surgery, complications like bleeding and infection may occur. Understandably, a change in body image and loss of normal breast function can wreck havoc on self-esteem and confidence. Knowing this, most mastectomy patients choose to have their breasts reconstructed. This plastic surgery involves inserting an implant filled with silicone or saline under the skin and muscle. Another procedure, called tissue flap reconstruction, creates breasts using skin, fat, and muscle from other spots on the body. Does preventative mastectomy really help prevent breast cancer? The cautious answer is "Yes." Research shows risk can be lowered by about 90%. However, this number is only accurate for women at a high risk in the first place. And what does "high risk" look like? For starters, it's having a mother, sister, or daughter with breast cancer. It can also mean having a rare mutation in one of the genes associated with breast cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2, these mutations that account for 5 to 10% of breast cancer cases. Being high risk also entails having cancerous cells "in situ," which means they have not moved from their original location. This was the case for actress Christina Applegate, who had both breast cancer AND the cancer-causing genetic mutation in her body. Rather than taking a "wait and see" approach, Applegate elected to have a double mastectomy, removing her healthy breast as well as the diseased one. Applegate is reportedly happy with her decision, and a National Cancer Institute study finds that 86% of preventative mastectomy patients are happy too. The decision to remove healthy breast tissue is not a small one. If you're concerned about risk, consult your physician, and explore the breast cancer series on this site for more information.More »
Last Modified: 2014-06-11 | Tags »
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Although chemotherapy is the most common treatment for cancer, there are some side effects involved. Watch this video to learn more.
Transcript: For many, chemotherapy is the best treatment option for cancer. That said, people facing chemotherapy...
For many, chemotherapy is the best treatment option for cancer. That said, people facing chemotherapy are understandably concerned about side effects. The nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue and lowered white blood cell count associated with chemo can range from temporary and minor, to uncomfortable and even life-threatening. In general, chemotherapy is effective at killing cancer cells, but it doesn't distinguish between cancer cells and healthy, growing cells... which may lead to side effects. So what should you expect? For starters, chemotherapy causes hair loss over the entire body, which is usually temporary. It may affect bone marrow cells, causing fatigue, bruising and bleeding, as well as increased vulnerability to infection. Skin cells may be affected too, meaning dryness, while dry mouth or oral sores can also occur. Because cells in the stomach and intestines may be affected, bouts of nausea, vomiting or diarrhea should be expected. The good news is that drugs can be used to combat those symptoms. Many wonder if chemotherapy impacts fertility. The short answer is that chemotherapy may inhibit normal ovary function, either temporarily or permanently, but that depends on the type of drugs prescribed. Even if menstruation stops during treatment, the ovaries may still produce eggs. Certain chemotherapy drugs are believed to increase the risk of male infertility. If you are male and concerned about this, storing sperm in a sperm bank prior to treatment may be worth exploring. It's not uncommon for sexual desire to wax and wane depending on where you're at in the treatment cycle, too. Because of its impact on female hormones, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and premature menopause may happen. Dangerous side effects that require a call to the doctor include a fever higher than 100.5, shaking or chills, vomiting that continues more than 48 hours following treatment, bleeding or bruising, frequent or painful urination, blood in urine or stools, or severe constipation or diarrhea. Other red flags include shortness of breath, chest pain, irregular or rapid heartbeat, intense fatigue, mouth sores and dizziness, as well as soreness, swelling and pus or drainage at the catheter location. Talk to your doctor about any other medications you take. Everyone reacts to chemotherapy differently, depending on type and combination of drugs used, and overall health and fitness. Your doctor can address any additional chemotherapy-related questions or concerns.More »
Last Modified: 2014-06-11 | Tags »
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