Breast Cancer can be a very scary illness to have to
deal with. It can be particularly nerve-wracking if you have detected a
lump in your breasts through a breast self-exam or if your health care
provider has found evidence of breast cancer. However scary, though, it
is necessary to go through the appropriate diagnosis and treatment
procedures in order to ensure that you have the best chances of
Diagnosing Breast Cancer
If you or your health care provider have detected
any signs of breast cancer (such as a lump) it will be necessary to
undergo some diagnostic tests. These tests are designed to help confirm
if there are any cancer cells in your breasts.
perform a mammogram, your breast
mammogram is a simple x-ray procedure that can provide you and your
health care specialist with a picture of the inside of your breasts. A
mammogram machine uses low doses of x-rays to produce a picture of your
breasts, which can then be analyzed for any tumors or suspicious lumps.
Mammograms are usually performed in hospital or at a breast clinic and
typically take around 30 minutes.
on a special platform that is attached to the mammogram machine. Your
breast is then compressed by a plastic paddle, to help ensure that all
areas of the breast are x-rayed. X-rays are then taken of your breasts,
from different angles.
a biopsy, your health care provider will remove a sample of cells from
your breast tissue. These cells are then analyzed under a microscope
for evidence of cancer. There are three types of biopsies:
Fine Needle Aspiration:
Needle aspiration is performed as an outpatient procedure, and is
relatively painless. A fine needle attached to a syringe is inserted
into the breast, near the area of any detectable lumps. Cells are then
aspirated into the syringe and taken to a lab for testing.
Needle biopsy is typically performed if the needle aspiration procedure
fails to remove any usable cells. A larger needle is inserted into the
core of your breast lump. A section of the middle of the tumor is then
removed, and examined for cancer cells.
Excision biopsy is a surgical procedure during which the entire breast
lump is removed. This procedure is usually performed in hospital using
general anesthetic. Once the lump has been removed, it is analyzed for
the presence of cancer cells.
Breast Cancer Treatment Options
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, it is
important to receive immediate treatment. Early treatment of breast
cancer can greatly increase your chances of survival, and may allow you
to avoid having to lose your breast. It can also reduce your chances of
experiencing breast cancer recurrence.
lumpectomy procedure is often performed for women suffering from Stage
I, II, or III breast cancer. Also known as wide excision, it is a
fairly simple procedure that removes only a small amount of breast
tissue. Specifically, lumpectomy targets the breast tumor along with a
minimal amount of surrounding, healthy tissue.
Lumpectomy is usually successful in removing all
signs of cancer, and generally leaves you with a very normal looking
breast. Lumpectomy is often paired with radiation therapy in order to
ensure the best treatment possible.
is a surgical procedure that is used to remove all cancerous tissues in
the breast area. During a mastectomy, your entire breast is removed.
Mastectomy may also involve the removal of lymph nodes or chest wall
muscles that may be infected with cancer cells. There are various
different types of mastectomy to choose from:
Simple Mastectomy: A simple (or total) mastectomy removes your entire breast, along with itís skin and nipple. All lymph nodes are left behind.
Modified radical mastectomies are the most commonly performed
mastectomies. This procedures removes the entire breast, along with
nipple and areola, and axillary lymph nodes.
The radical mastectomy removes the entire breast, nipple, and areola,
along with accompanying lymph nodes. Major and minor chest muscles
located beneath the breast are also removed. This type of mastectomy is
rarely performed nowadays, because it is so extreme.
Partial Mastectomy: A partial mastectomy removes
only a portion of your breast tissue. It is typically performed when
the cancer cells are located in only one specific area of the breast.
therapy uses high energy x-rays to damage and kill cancer cells. It can
be used to shrink tumors or to control the growth of your breast
cancer. It is often used after lumpectomy or mastectomy procedures.
There are two types of radiation therapy:
External Beam Radiation:
External beam radiation is the most common type of radiation therapy.
This type of radiation is delivered through a machine to specific areas
of your body. It is typically painless, but can cause side effects
including fatigue, loss of appetite, and a sunburn-like rash.
Internal radiation (also known as brachytherapy) is now being used more
often in breast cancer treatment. This treatment involves placing
radioactive materials inside the breast, in areas where cancer has been
detected. Between 10 and 20 plastic catheters are inserted into the
breast. Radioactive pellets are then placed inside these catheters and
work to kill cancer cells. Internal radiation is associated with some
side effects, including fatigue, infection, and infertility.
is a treatment regimen comprised of a variety of anti-cancer drugs.
These drugs help to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. They can also
be used to control the growth of breast cancer or to prevent its
recurrence. Often given through an intravenous catheter, chemotherapy
can also be administered orally or through intramuscular injection.
Chemotherapy often incorporates more than one type of drug. Known as
combination chemotherapy, the use of two to three anti-cancer drugs is
much more effective than the use of just one.
Each chemotherapy regimen must be tailored to the
individual patient, and can last anywhere between two and twelve
months. Unfortunately, chemotherapy is associated with a number of side
effects. Chemotherapy drugs also kill healthy cells throughout the
body, which can leave you prone to infection, mouth sores, and cause
your hair to fall out. Chemotherapy also causes nausea, vomiting, and
cancer cells feed off of hormones produced by your body, particularly
estrogen and progesterone. Hormone therapy works to block the
production of these hormones, starving the cancer cells. Tamoxifen
therapy is the leading type of hormone therapy used for breast cancer
treatment. Taken orally, tamoxifen is highly effective at killing
cancer cells, however, it does affect normal, healthy cells too.
Hormone therapy is generally reserved for postmenopausal women although
it may be used in pre-menopausal women occasionally. Side effects
include: nausea, depression, and vomiting.