Treatment of breast cancer is almost always more successful when symptoms are recognized early, so it’s important for women and men to know the early warning signs of breast cancer. If you do develop breast cancer, you should learn as much as you can about the many treatment options available so you can have an informed conversation with your doctor.
Surgical treatment is the most common option for those who have early stages of breast cancer. Depending on the specific case, a surgeon might prefer to perform a mastectomy rather than simply remove the cancerous tissue. Mastectomies are performed when there is a high likelihood that the cancer will develop again if the breast is not completely removed. If you have stage I or II breast cancer, your doctor might be able to remove the tumor successfully. She or he might, however, still want to use radiation or drug therapies to ensure that all of the cancer cells are eliminated.
Many doctors will choose a radiation treatment of breast cancer if the patient has small cancer cells that cannot be removed through surgery, or if cancer has spread to other parts of the body, making it difficult to remove all of the tumors with surgical procedures. Either external or internal radiation treatments for breast cancer can be used. External methods use x-rays to eliminate cancer cells. With the internal method, a small incision is made to place irradiated material near the cancer that allows the doctor to focus the radiation directly on the diseased area.
While radiation treatment is often effective, it can cause unwanted side effects that patients with late stages of cancer might not be able to tolerate well.
There are many different drugs commonly used to treat breast cancer. The most popular is chemotherapy, which is often used to treat other forms of cancer as well. Like radiation treatment, chemotherapy is useful because it can treat large portions of the body. This is beneficial when cancer has spread beyond the breasts. This treatment for breast cancer might also eliminate cancerous cells that cannot be detected or removed with surgery.
Drug treatments can also cause unwanted side effects that very sick patients might not be able to tolerate.
Doctors might use a combination of therapies to help their patients find a treatment that works for them without causing unpleasant side effects. When talking to your doctor, you might want to consider the likelihood that you will get the disease again, how the different treatments will affect your life, and whether you will be able to recover fully and effectively from the treatments. Some patients with advanced stages of breast cancer (often in communication with their physician, friends, and family) will decide that hospice care is the best option, so they focus on life extension and mediating the negative effects of the disease for as long as they can in an effort to make the most of their remaining time.