Philadelphia Treatment Guide
What It Is
All cancers stem from a mutation in the genes that regulate cell growth. Normally, these genes keep things working smoothly: old cells die off and new healthy cells are made to take their place. But mutations can cause cells to divide and multiply without receiving the signal to do so, producing so many cells that they eventually form a tumor. These tumors are either benign, not a danger to your health, or malignant, which are dangerous as they are made up of sick cells that can spread to other parts of the body. Breast cancer involves a malignant tumor that has developed from the cells in the breast.
Often, women first realize there is a problem when they, or their doctor, feel a lump in their breast. The lumps are often painless, hard, and have uneven edges, though some can also be tender, soft and rounded. However, many lumps are so small that they go unnoticed and aren’t picked up until a mammogram spots them, which leads to further testing. Other symptoms include swelling of the breast, breast or nipple pain, the nipple turning inward, a nipple discharge other than breast milk, a lump in the underarm area, skin irritation or dimpling, and redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin.
Treatment choices are largely contingent upon whether the cancer has metastasized — i.e., spread to other parts of the body — and to what degree. Though scientists continue to search for new, innovative treatments options, there are currently four primary treatment options: surgery (a lumpectomy or mastectomy), chemotherapy, radiation, and hormonal therapy.
Aimed at preserving the breast, a lumpectomy removes only the cancerous tumor and a small amount of the surrounding breast tissue. This is a viable option for a woman with only one tumor under four centimeters. A lumpectomy is typically followed by 5-7 weeks of radiation.
A mastectomy entails removal of all breast tissue. A modified radical mastectomy removes the entire breast, as well as some of the surrounding lymph nodes. A radical mastectomy removes the entire breast, lymph nodes, and the chest wall muscles beneath the breast. This extensive surgery is for women whose cancer has metastasized.
Radiation uses high-energy rays to damage cancer cells in the path of its beam. It damages cell’s DNA, which thus slows or stops cell division. The treatment also affects normal cells, but they are more capable of repairing themselves then are cancer cells. Radiation is primarily used to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence after surgery.
For women whose cancer has metastasized, chemotherapy involves the use of drugs administered through the bloodstream to attack cancer cells which have spread beyond the initial diagnosed site. Chemotherapy is particularly effective at stemming rapid cell division, which therefore makes it efficient at the stopping the uncontrollable growth of cancer cells.
Hormonal therapy is used to treat only hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer, which happens to be the most common type of breast cancer. After a breast cancer is removed, the cells are tested to see if they have receptors for estrogen and progesterone, and if they do, it's considered hormone-receptor-positive. When the hormones attach to the receptors, the breast cancer cells respond to signals from the hormones by growing and multiplying. By reducing the amount of estrogen and progesterone in the body or blocking the effects of the hormones, hormonal therapy can slow the growth of or shrink hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers.
Living With Breast Cancer
Hearing the words “breast cancer” is devastating for any woman. Thankfully, from Top Doctors to cutting-edge hospitals and great local support groups, Philadelphia is equipped to help you fight this battle and win.