Breast cancer is caused by malignant growth in the breast tissue. It occurs mainly in women, and occasionally in men. Depending upon the stage of the cancer, several options are available to the patients for breast cancer treatment.
The Basics Of Breast Cancer Treatment
The treatment options can be classified into two groups: standard treatments and treatments that are done as part of clinical trials.
Six Standard Breast Cancer Treatment Options
There are six options available for standard breast cancer treatment:
This is the most common type of treatment used for patients with breast cancer. In the surgical treatment of breast cancer, first a tissue sample or a lymph node from the breast is taken for microscopic examination and confirmation of the cancer. Once the abnormal cells have been identified, depending on the stage of the cancer, surgery is advised.
Here are some of the types of surgeries performed on the patients as part of breast cancer treatment:
(a) Breast Conserving Surgery:
Doctors surgically remove only the part of the breast that is affected by cancer, while retaining the remaining, normal part of the breast.
Doctors remove the cancerous lump that has formed in the breast, along with the normal tissue that surrounds the lump.
(c) Partial Mastectomy:
The part of the breast which is affected by cancer is removed along with the normal part of the breast which surrounds the affected region.
(d) Segmental Mastectomy:
The region below the cancerous growth, which generally forms the lining over the chest muscles, is also removed in addition to the affected tissue.
(e) Total Mastectomy:
In this procedure, the cancer-affected breast is removed completely by surgery.
(f) Modified Radical Mastectomy:
This is a modified version of the total mastectomy, as in this surgery, the affected breast, the affected lymph nodes under the arm, the lining of the chest muscles as well as the part of the chest wall under the affected area are removed surgically.
Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy, Followed By Surgery:
The sentinel lymph node is the first among the lymph nodes to get affected by the tumor in the breast. The biopsy of the sentinel lymph node is carried out during the surgery.
A radioactive blue dye is injected near the tumor, and it flows into the sentinel lymph node through the lymph ducts. After confirming the presence of cancer in the biopsied tissue by microscopic examination, the affected lymph node is removed.
High energy X-rays that have the capability to destroy the cancerous cells are commonly used in radiation therapy. There are two kinds of radiation therapy.
(a) Internal Radiation Therapy:
The radioactive chemicals required for the therapy are packed in needles or catheters and placed directly on the area affected by cancer.
(b) External Radiation Therapy:
Radioactive rays are passed externally on the area affected by cancer.
In chemotherapy, specific drugs are used to prevent cancer growth and kill existent cancer cells. Two of the most commonly used types of chemotherapy are:
(a) Systemic Chemotherapy:
The drugs are given to the patient either orally or by injecting them into his muscles or veins.
(b) Regional Chemotherapy:
The drugs are administered directly onto the region affected by cancer.
The estrogen hormone produced by the ovaries is found to help the growth of cancer in the breast. By using drugs, radiations or surgery, the hormone production is reduced or stopped to prevent the cancer from growing further.
Targeted therapy uses drugs that can specifically identify and destroy the cancer cells without affecting the normal cells.
There are two kinds of targeted therapies that are commonly used:
(a) Monoclonal Antibodies:
The antibodies that are made from specific immune system cells are used for this type of treatment. These antibodies have the capability to differentiate between normal cells and cancer cells. They destroy the cancer-causing cells and prevent them from growing further.
Monoclonal Antibodies are usually used alone or in combination with other treatment options depending on the stage of the breast cancer.
(b) Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors:
These are specific drugs that block the signals required for the growth of cancer cells. They are also used alone or in combination with other treatment options.
Apart from the breast cancer treatment options mentioned above, several others are available as part of clinical trials. For example, in some cases, a high dose of chemotherapy with stem cell transplant is used as a form of treatment, wherein high doses of drugs are given to destroy the cancer cells. Further, normal healthy stem cells are transplanted to replace the destroyed cells. However, such treatments are used only in clinical trials as they pose serious side effects to the patients and might even cause death in some cases.