Surgery is often the first step towards treating your breast cancer. However, the decision to have surgery is very personal, and it also depends on your cancer profile. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best course of action for your particular cancer diagnosis. He or she will discuss with you whether your cancer will be best treated with surgery, and if so, what type of surgery is appropriate for your situation. If surgery is the best option for you, there are several options to consider.
There are several types of surgeries, each of which has its own pros and cons, which you need to review with your doctor to decide the best course of action that suits you and your diagnosis. First, a mastectomy is when all of the breast tissue is removed from the body, whereas a lumpectomy involves taking out the tumor and tissue near the tumor, which can preserve the breast. During either of these procedures, the lymph nodes can be removed, if the breast cancer has grown outside of the milk ducts. Or a lymph node dissection is also an option, where a few lymph nodes are removed and examined to determine if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
Also, some women opt for breast reconstruction after a mastectomy or lumpectomy, so that their breasts look the way they did before the surgery. Others may use a prosthetic breast instead. Another proactive approach is for those who have a very high risk of having cancer is to have a prophylactic mastectomy, in which the breast is removed. A similar preventative surgery done for high-risk women is to have the ovaries removed in a prophylactic ovary removal, which reduces the levels of estrogen in the body, which inhibits the development of cancer due to estrogen. Lastly, cryotherapy, in which the cancer cells are killed via extremely cold temperatures, is another treatment that is still in an experimental stage.
Another option for you to consider is radiation therapy, also known as radiotherapy. This is a highly effective way in which to kill cancer cells and it can reduce the risk of cancer recurring by about 70%. A plus is that radiation therapy is somewhat easy to tolerate and has limited side effects. Radiation therapy consists of targeting the cancerous cells with a high-energy beam. A high-energy beam is similar to light or an x-ray. These high-energy beams use radiation to damage a cell’s DNA, essentially slowing down the cell reproduction process. Healthy cells are able to repair themselves and reproduce, while cancer cells have difficulty recovering from this radiation, therefore more effectively slowing down cell reproduction or killing the cells.
This radiation therapy can be administered to you in two ways: one, as a beam from a machine, similar to an x-ray; and the other, as pellets that are implanted in the body that radiate beams from inside your body. Radiation requires a consistent time commitment, as your treatments can be up to 30 minutes a day, five days a week, for about seven weeks. Some of the side effects include a local skin irritation where the radiation was administered, similar to a sunburn. Unlike chemotherapy, you will not lose your hair or experience other adverse side effects. This treatment is administered to you by a radiation oncologist.
Chemotherapy is another treatment option for you that treats the whole body by introducing medicine through the bloodstream, which is also known as systemic therapy. This option targets cancer cells by using medicine, in an attempt to weaken or kill the cells both at the tumor site as well as any cells that have spread throughout the body.
Chemotherapy can be administered in the case of both early-stage and advanced-stage invasive breast cancer. During early-stage invasive breast cancer, chemotherapy is used to try to destroy any possible lingering cancer cells after surgery, as well as to minimize the possibility of the cancer returning. Chemotherapy is used in advanced-stage breast cancer to kill or weaken as many cancer cells as possible.
However, as the chemotherapy kills cancer cells, it also kills healthy cells as well. The side effects are something for you to consider. You may experience hair loss, skin and mouth irritation and changes to your nails, such as cracking and the nails turning yellow. Other effects you may experience are: digestive issues and vomiting; “chemo brain” or foggy or unclear thinking; swelling of the hands and feet and difficulty urinating; and overall discomfort. Again, it is up to you and your doctor to determine what the best cause of treatment is for you.