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Breast Cancer: Treatment Options And Side Effects

Treatments for breast cancer are getting better and better. With a variety of options available, it's a good idea to know what can help you and what the side effects of every option are.

breast-cancer-treatment

What are the most common treatments for breast cancer? 

Most cases of breast cancer are treated with some combination of surgery, radiation and systemic therapy, such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and endocrine therapy.

Surgery most often includes removal of the cancer from the breast (lumpectomy) and a sampling of the lymph nodes under the arm (sentinel lymph node biopsy) but can include removal of all of the breast tissue (mastectomy) and all of the lymph nodes under the arm (axillary lymph node dissection). Systemic therapies can be delivered using an IV, injection or oral medication. 

How is breat cancer treated during pregnancy?

In pregnancy surgery can still be performed and certain chemotherapy regimens can still be administered, but pregnant patients can't receive radiation, certain targeted therapies and endocrine therapy. Therefore, if these treatments are part of the treatment plan for a pregnant patient, they must be held until the patient is no longer pregnant.

What are the side effects of these treatments, and how women can manage them?

Surgery

The most serious long-term consequence of surgery, specifically surgery on the lymph nodes under the arm, is lymphoedema, which can result in chronic swelling and heaviness of the affected arm. Lymphoedema can be managed with therapeutic massage and compression garments. 

The prognosis for most patients diagnosed with breast cancer, especially early-stage breast cancer, is excellent.

Radiation therapy

The most common side effects experienced during radiation treatment are skin changes and fatigue. Skin sensitivity can be managed with creams and topical medications, and fatigue can be abated by staying active and getting regular exercise. 

Chemotherapy 

Systemic therapy can cause a variety of side effects. The most pronounced side effects are typically seen with chemotherapy. These side effects include hair loss, skin and nail changes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, nerve problems, such as numbness, tingling, and pain of the hands and feet, hot flashes and joint aches and pains. These side effects are typically managed by a medical oncologist with medication and/or integrative medicine therapies, such as acupuncture.

What are the survival rates of breast cancer? Do they depend on the age of the patient or the stage of the cancer?

In general, the prognosis for most patients diagnosed with breast cancer, especially early-stage breast cancer, is excellent. 

Prognosis and survival rates depend on the age of the patient and the stage of the disease. The stage of the disease is determined by the size of the tumor in the breast, the extent of spread of the cancer to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body, the subtype of the breast cancer and the biology of the cancer, which can be determined with molecular tests. 

The average five-year survival rate for all women with invasive breast cancer is 90 percent, and the average 10-year survival rate is 83 percent

If the cancer is confined to the breast, which is considered early-stage breast cancer, then the five-year survival rate is 99 percent.

The majority of women are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, then the five-year survival rate is 85 percent. If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body or has “metastasized”, then the five-year survival rate is 27 percent. However, even when cancer is diagnosed at a more advanced stage and has spread to other parts of the body, modern treatment regimens can help these patients maintain a good quality of life for years. 

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