Most women undertake surgery and receive additional treatment before or after their breast cancer surgery like such as chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy.
There are several options available for breast cancer treatment but still it is a complex decision to make. It is advisable to seek a second opinion from another breast specialist before finalising the course of treatment with the treating doctor.
Breast Cancer Surgery
This is an operation performed to treat breast cancer. It includes:
- Lumpectomy (removing the breast cancer) - The surgeon only removes the tumour and a small area of surrounding tissue. This is only done for smaller tumours.
- Mastectomy (removing the entire breast) - All of the breast tissue is removed including lobules, ducts, fatty tissue, nipple and areola.
- Sentinel node biopsy - Removing only limited lymph nodes.
- Axillary lymph node dissection - Removing several lymph nodes in armpit.
- Double mastectomy - Removing both breasts.
Complications of these surgeries depend on the procedure chosen like extent of bleeding and infection.
Some women choose to go for a have breast reconstruction after these surgery to maintain the aesthetic look of the body.
Radiation therapy uses high powered X-rays to kill cancer cells. This is typically done using a X-ray machine which aims the beams at the site of tumour (external beam radiation). Sometimes these radiations can also be given by placing radioactive material inside the body (brachytherapy).
There are some side effects of radiation therapy like fatigue, sunburn-like rashes where the radiation is aimed and breast tissue appearing swollen.
Chemotherapy for breast cancer is the usage of drugs to destroy cancer cells. In women with larger breast tumours, chemotherapy is at times given before surgery to shrink a tumour to a size so that it becomes easier to remove with surgery.
Chemotherapy is also used when cancer has already spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).
Side effects of chemotherapy depend on the drugs received. Some common side effects are temporary loss of hair, nausea, & vomiting, fatigue and increased risk of developing infections. It may also cause premature menopause, infertility and damage to the heart, nerves and kidneys.
Hormone therapy or it should be understood as 'hormone-blocking therapy' is sometimes used to treat breast cancers which are sensitive to hormones. These cancers are often referred as ER positive (estrogen receptor positive) and PR positive (progesterone receptor positive) cancers.
Hormone therapy can be given after surgery or other types of treatments to decrease the chances of cancer returning.
Side effects of hormone therapy may include hot flashes, sweating at night, vaginal dryness, joint & muscle pain and osteoporosis (an increased risk of bone thinning).