By Amanda Beam
Dr. Beth Riley, an oncologist and director of clinical operations at the University of Louisville’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center, talks about how breast cancer treatments work. Here are few things to know…
In general, surgery remains a requisite for most women diagnosed with a breast malignancy. Alongside patient preference, tumor size, staging, and whether multiple areas of lesions exist influence the need and type of surgery required.
“In 2016, if someone has stage 1 to stage 3 breast cancer, they must undergo surgery to be cured,” Riley says. “If they have stage 4 breast cancer, then surgery is not usually offered. That’s because the cancer has already spread beyond the breasts or the lymph nodes where the cancer started. There is no strong evidence that surgery in these cases improves the overall outcome.”
Chemotherapy remains the more notorious of the two treatments. Patients can receive the drug in either pill or intravenous forms. This treatment aims at destroying any renegade cancer cells that may have travelled throughout the entire body.
Some regimens can cause patients to lose their hair, feel nauseated or weak, or produce other negative side effects. Chemo can last anywhere from three to six months, all the way up to a year.
“Your tolerance of the chemotherapy and/or the side effects from chemotherapy depend on the exact chemotherapy regimen you choose,” Riley says. “There is not one standard regimen for breast cancer that all patients receive. It is tailored to the patient and the tumor subtype.”
Although at times used as an initial treatment, endocrine therapy falls most often at the completion of surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation. Women with tumors that were estrogen or progesterone dependent typically go on the daily oral medication. Drugs like Tamoxifen suppress hormone production, thus decreasing the likelihood of reoccurrence.
According to the American Cancer Society, two out of three breast cancers are hormone receptor positive.
Survivors of breast cancer, on average, stay on the drug for five years, although a few may take it up to 10 years. As with the other treatments, side effects can occur, and depend on your own personal tolerance as well as what brand of medication you’re on. Common complaints include bone/joint pain, bone thinning, osteoporosis, nausea, fatigue, and hot flashes.