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Breast Cancer (Facts, Stages) (cont.)

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Surgery for breast cancer

Surgery is the most common type of treatment for breast cancer. Different surgical treatments are available for early stage breast cancers. Mastectomy is the removal of the entire breast. Breast-conserving surgery, such as lumpectomy or partial mastectomy, can be appropriate for some women. Sentinel lymph node biopsy (removing the first lymph node that drains the affected area) may be performed to assess whether the cancer has begun to spread to nearby lymph nodes. If the lymph nodes contain cancer, an axillary dissection may be done to remove and examine other nearby lymph nodes.

Reconstructive surgery may be done either at the time of mastectomy or at a later time to rebuild the shape of the breast.

Radiation for breast cancer

Radiation therapy is a common treatment for women who have had breast-conserving surgery. It is also sometimes given to women who have had a mastectomy, particularly if there has been spread of the tumor to the chest wall. This treatment uses high-energy rays to destroy remaining cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be given externally or internally. External radiation therapy is given in a clinic, usually five days a week for several weeks. This is the most common kind of radiation therapy used to treat breast cancer. However, in some cases, internal radiation therapy can be used. This involves the placement of radioactive material directly into the breast tissue through thin tubes. After a short time period, the material is removed. This can be repeated on a daily basis for a week. Administering radioactive material inside the body is known as brachytherapy.

Hormone therapy for breast cancer

Hormone therapy is an effective form of treatment for cancers that are positive for hormone receptors (ER and PR). Hormone therapy is designed to deprive the tumor cells of the hormones they need to grow and can be given as different types of drugs. Tamoxifen, a drug that interferes with the activity of estrogen in the body, is a common hormone therapy drug. It can be given to both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Studies have shown that taking tamoxifen for five years after surgical removal of the tumor improves outcomes in women with ER-positive breast cancer. In postmenopausal women, the drug class known as aromatase inhibitors is also used as a form of hormone therapy. Examples of aromatase inhibitors approved by the FDA are anastrozole (Arimidex), letrozole (Femara), and exemestane (Aromasin).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/29/2014


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