What is Breast Cancer Treatment? - GO.CARE Blog
What is Breast Cancer Treatment?
Author: Hào Nghiêm
Review Date: August 5, 2018 | Last Modified: January 13, 2019
What is Breast Cancer Treatment?

Definition

1. What is Breast Cancer Treatment?

Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts. It’s the most common invasive cancer in women, and the second main cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer.

Breast cancer is treated in several ways. It depends on the kind of breast cancer and how far it has spread. People with breast cancer often get more than one kind of treatment.

2. What is the purpose of Breast Cancer Treatment?

The purpose of Breast Cancer Treatment is to remove the cancer and reduce the risk of the cancer spreading or coming back (recurring).

Candidates

1. When is Breast Cancer Treatment needed?

Once diagnosed with breast cancer, you should seek Breast Cancer Treatment as soon as possible.

2. Who are eligible for Breast Cancer Treatment?

Eligibility depends on specific treatment options. Before recommending an option for you, your doctor will consider:

  • The type of breast cancer you have
  • The size of your tumor and how far the cancer has spread in your body, called the stage of your disease
  • If your tumor has things called “receptors” for HER2 protein, estrogen, and progesterone, or other specific features.
  • Your age
  • If you have gone through menopause
  • Other health conditions and preferences

Need further information? Contact GO.CARE manage team to get more details from expert doctors and medical specialists.

Cost

In the U.S., the costs can vary considerably, but receiving what’s considered to be a more basic round of chemo can run from $10,000 to $100,000 or more. What’s more, adding an important drug called Herceptin drove the price to over $160,000.

Many women end up dealing with breast cancer by choosing a mastectomy, which can be expensive as is and can bring the price up even more if coupled with chemotherapy. On average, this procedure will run about $13,000 which does not include any sort of reconstruction if it’s desired.

Finally, some women choose to undergo breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, which can run anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000 depending on the surgeon.

A study published by American Health & Drug Benefits compared insurance claims from various women who had undergone breast cancer treatment. The average cost seen within the first year after receiving a diagnosis were as follows:

  • $60,637 for stage 0
  • $82,121 for stage 1 or 2
  • $129,387 for stage 3
  • $134,600 for stage 4

In Singapore, The min cost of Mastectomy is $10.00.

Preparation

1. What should I do before Breast Cancer Treatment?

  • First, make sure you stay informed. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor. Bring someone to your doctor appointment with you so they can take note while you talk to your doctor.
  • Plan ahead everything that you might need after a treatment session such as transportation and caretaking.
  • Ask for help from friends and coworkers.
  • Arrange your house in a way that is most convenient for you, such as easy access to water and medication, nearby outlets for charging your phone and laptop, etc.
  • Adopt healthy habits such as exercising and eating a balanced diet.
  • Expect your appearances to change during the course of your treatment. Be prepared for hair loss, weight loss, skin flaws, etc.
  • Talk to cancer survivals for insights and advice.

2. What should I do after Breast Cancer Treatment?

Even after you have completed breast cancer treatment, your doctors will want to watch you closely. It’s very important to go to all of your follow-up appointments. During these visits, your doctors will ask if you are having any problems. They may do exams and lab tests or imaging tests to look for signs of cancer or treatment side effects.

Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some might only last for a few days or weeks, but others might last a long time. Some side effects might not even show up until years after you have finished treatment. Visits with your doctor are a good time for you to ask questions and talk about any changes or problems you notice or concerns you have. However, if you have additional concerns about your cancer, you do not have to wait until your next scheduled visit. You can call your doctor immediately.

Need further information? Contact GO.CARE manage team to get more details from expert doctors and medical specialists.

Procedure

1. How long does Breast Cancer Treatment last?

Treatment for breast cancer can take months, if not up to years. The length of treatment varies on a case-by-case basis. Talk to your doctor to learn about your treatment timeline.

2. How is the procedure of Breast Cancer Treatment?

Some treatments remove or destroy the disease within the breast and nearby tissues, such as lymph nodes. These include:

  • Surgery to remove the whole breast, called a mastectomy, or to remove just the tumor and tissues around it, called a lumpectomy or breast-conserving surgery. There are different types of mastectomies and lumpectomies.
  • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy waves to kill cancer cells.
  • Other treatments destroy or control cancer cells all over the body:
  • Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. As these powerful medicines fight the disease, they also can cause side effects, like nausea, hair loss, early menopause, hot flashes, and fatigue.
  • Hormone therapy uses drugs to prevent hormones, especially estrogen, from fueling the growth of breast cancer cells. Medicines include tamoxifen (Nolvadex, Soltamox) for women before and after menopause and aromatase inhibitors including anastrozole (Arimidex), exemestane (Aromasin), and letrozole (Femara) for postmenopausal women. Side effects can include hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Some types of this therapy work by stopping the ovaries from making hormones, either through surgery or medication. Fulvestrant (Faslodex) is an injection that keeps estrogen from attaching to cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapy such as lapatinib (Tykerb), pertuzumab (Perjeta), and trastuzumab (Herceptin). These medicines prompt the body’s immune system to destroy cancer. They target breast cancer cells that have high levels of a protein called HER2. Palbociclib (Ibrance) and ribociclib (Kisqali) work by blocking a substance that promotes cancer growth. Along with an aromatase inhibitor, palbociclib and ribociclib are for postmenopausal women with certain types of advanced cancer. Abemaciclib and palbociclib are sometimes used with the hormone therapy fulvestrant (Faslodex).
  • You might get chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy along with surgery or radiation. They can kill any cancer cells that were left behind by other treatments.

3. What happens after the procedure?

Doctor visits

At first, your follow-up doctor visits will probably be scheduled for every few months. The longer you have been free of cancer, the less often the appointments are needed. After 5 years, they are typically done about once a year.

Mammograms

If you had breast-conserving surgery, you will get a mammogram about 6-12 months after surgery and radiation are completed, and then at least every year after that. If you had a mastectomy you will still need to have yearly mammograms on the remaining breast.

Pelvic exams

If you are taking either of the hormone drugs tamoxifen or toremifene and still have your uterus, you should have pelvic exams every year because these drugs can increase your risk of uterine cancer. This risk is highest in women who have gone through menopause. Be sure to tell your doctor right away about any unusual vaginal bleeding, such as vaginal bleeding or spotting after menopause, bleeding or spotting between periods, or a change in your periods. Although this is usually caused by something that isn’t cancer, it can also be the first sign of uterine cancer.

Bone density tests

If you are taking an aromatase inhibitor (anastrozole, letrozole, or exemestane) for early stage breast cancer, or if you go through menopause as a result of treatment, your doctor will want to monitor your bone health and may consider testing your bone density.

Other tests

Other tests such as blood tests and imaging tests (like bone scans and chest x-rays) are not a standard part of follow-up because they haven’t been shown to help a woman treated for breast cancer live longer. But they might be done if you have symptoms or physical exam findings that suggest that the cancer might have come back. These and other tests may also be done as part of evaluating new treatments by clinical trials.

  • If symptoms, exams, or tests suggest a possible recurrence of your cancer, imaging tests such as an x-ray, CT scan, PET scan, MRI scan, bone scan, and/or a biopsy may be done. Your doctor may also look for circulating tumor cells in the blood or measure levels of blood tumor markers such as CA-15-3, CA 27-29, or CEA. The blood levels of tumor markers go up in some women if their cancer has spread to bones or other organs such as the liver. They are not elevated in all women with recurrence, so they aren’t always helpful. If they are elevated, your doctor might use them to monitor the results of therapy.

Need further information? Contact GO.CARE manage team to get more details from expert doctors and medical specialists.

Complications & Side Effects

1. What complications could arise from Breast Cancer Treatment?

Complications are common with surgery for breast cancer. Those include:

Seroma.

This is a collection of clear fluid which accumulates in the surgical cavity during healing. After mastectomy, fluid can build up between the skin flaps and the chest wall, causing a balloon-like swelling with obvious fluid movement. If it is large and uncomfortable your breastcare nurse may aspirate (remove) the fluid using a simple syringe and needle. Occasionally you may need repeated aspirations before the seroma resolves or a small seroma drain may need to be placed to aid adherence of the skin flaps to the chest wall. Aspirations increase the risk of infection but a persistent, large seroma may result in a poorer cosmetic outcome if not dealt with. A small seroma may be left to resolve on its own. Seromas may also develop in the armpit after axillary surgery and can quickly become uncomfortable. They are treated in the same way as a breast seroma.

Haematoma.

There is a small risk of post operative bleeding and haematoma formation after breast surgery, causing pain and significant bruising. A small haematoma can be left to resolve naturally but larger ones may need surgical evacuation. It’s important to monitor the area for signs of infection.

Lymphoedema.

Breast cancer surgery and removal of axillary lymph nodes increases the risk of lymphoedema, a chronic swelling of the affected arm. It may also develop in the breast, chest wall or back. A referral to a lymphoedema therapist at the first sign of any symptoms is crucial so that the condition can be managed without it progressing.

Cording (axillary web syndrome).

Cording, also known as axillary web syndrome occurs in about 10% of patients after axillary surgery and is known to increase the risk of developing lymphoedema. A tight, uncomfortable cord-like structure can be felt (and sometimes seen) in the armpit and often extending down the arm. This restricts movement and requires referral to a lymphoedema therapist or physiotherapist. Treatment aims to release the tight tissue and restore a normal range of movement, and may involve stretching and flexibility exercises, massage, and appropriate pain relief. Some therapists now use low-level laser therapy to hasten recovery.

Restricted range of movement in shoulder. 

When recovering from breast cancer surgery, patients may have drains inserted into the axilla or chest wall and are advised not to raise their arms above 90 degrees until these are removed, to reduce the risk of bleeding and seroma formation. This sometimes results in restricted range of movement in the shoulder. You should be given a programme of arm exercises post-operatively and it’s very important to follow this and see a physiotherapist if you are not making progress. The range of movement in your shoulder should ultimately return to pre-surgery range if mobilised properly.

Nerve pain or numbness.

Following axillary node dissection you may have an area of numbness, particularly down the back of the arm and in the axilla (armpit). This may improve over time, although it may be permanent as some of the nerves which supply sensation to the skin are divided during surgery in order to remove the lymph nodes. It’s important to protect the numb area from sunburn, sharp objects or anything which may cause injury.

Infection.

All surgical procedures carry a risk of infection. It’s important to report any changes such as redness, heat,swelling or increased pain in or around the surgical wound. Diabetes, obesity, older age and cigarette smoking are all associated with a higher rate of wound infection.

Tissue Necrosis.

If the blood supply to the skin and underlying tissues is compromised, oxygen supply to the cells is reduced. This can sometimes happen when mastectomy skin flaps are very thin. The lack of oxygen causes the tissue to die, forming a black, hard scab which might need removal to let the remaining tissue heal.

Smokers are at an increased risk of tissue necrosis. Fat necrosis can also occur in the breast following partial mastectomy. Fatty tissue which dies or has been damaged can form a firm lump or sometimes a cyst filled with an oily substance (oil cyst). These will often resolve over time without treatment.

Pain.

You can expect some degree of short term pain after any surgery but for most people this resolves within a few weeks. However, some people report persistent discomfort in the longer term in the breast, chest wall or arm following breast and axillary surgery.

This can sometimes be due to nerve damage (neuropathic pain) and is often described as hot, burning, sharp or stabbing in nature. The exact cause of this syndrome is still not unknown. Some cases are mild and can be managed with anti-inflammatories while others require comprehensive pain assessment and more extensive pain management. Some women also report phantom nipple pain after mastectomy.

Weight imbalance after mastectomy. 

The removal of a breast (particularly if it is large) can cause a change in posture and resulting neck back or shoulder discomfort. Physiotherapy and a well fitted prosthesis will usually remedy this.

2. What are the possible side effects of Breast Cancer Treatment?

Some common side effects of breast cancer treatment include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Pain and numbness (peripheral neuropathy)
  • Dental issues
  • Lymphedema
  • Musculoskeletal symptoms
  • Bone loss and osteoporosis
  • Heart problems
  • New cancers
  • Cataracts
  • Blood clots
  • Absence of menstrual periods
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Infertility
  • Concerns about memory loss and cognitive function (“chemo brain”)

Need further information? Contact GO.CARE manage team to get more details from expert doctors and medical specialists.

Please choose the best hospitals and clinics that provide Breast cancer treatment in Asia to get the most suitable healthcare for your condition.

GO.CARE does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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