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Breast Cancer Basics
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Overview of Treatment Options


Overview of Treatment Options  Do You Need Systemic Treatment?
Planning Your Treatment

 

Overview of Treatment Options
With today's early detection and improved treatment techniques, we can treat breast cancer more successfully than ever before.

The following overview of various therapies will help you understand how and why they are used, alone or in combinations. This information will make it easier for you to understand your physician's recommendations, and arrive at a decision.

In the following days and weeks, as you explore this book, talk with your healthcare professionals, and gather additional information, you will begin to acquire the knowledge you need to make informed decisions.

Local treatments—surgery and radiation therapy—treat cancer cells in the breast area only. But if there is reason to suspect that cancer cells have traveled outside the breast area, you will need a systemic treatment, using drugs that can reach all parts of the body. This treatment can be in the form of chemotherapy (drugs that kill cancer cells), hormonal therapy (drugs that prevent cancer cells from growing), immunotherapy (drugs that help your body fight off cancer), or a combination of these.

 


Do You Need Systemic Treatment?
Why would you need additional therapy if there are no signs of tumor spread to other areas? The problem with cancer is that as the tumor grows, cancer cells can break away and travel down blood vessels or lymph ducts to other parts of the body—much the same way as seeds from a weed are carried away by the wind, or float down a river, to grow somewhere else.

In the very early stages, these groups of break-away cells, called micrometastases, are very small, and cannot be found by any test or method that exists today. But if one waits until they grow into larger tumors, called metastases, that can be confirmed by X-rays or CT scans, then successful treatment becomes difficult.

So if there is any reason to suspect that cells from your tumor had a chance to metastasize to other parts of your body before the cancer was removed, you may be treated with chemotherapy or hormonal therapy to destroy those tumor cells as soon as possible.

 


Planning Your Treatment
This brief overview was intended to give you a general idea of the treatments available, and of the decision steps involved. Don't worry if you feel confused by the new words and concepts presented here. Most people do at first.

Planning your treatment should involve the entire team of specialists who consulted on your case, as well as your partner or your loved ones.

As your case progresses, your team of healthcare professionals will review the information available, and discuss your case with you and among themselves. You'll probably meet with various team members several times, while they develop a recommendation for a course of treatment that's best suited to your case.

The key thing to remember is that it is you who will make the final decision, and all the members of the team need to respect it. That's why it is so important for you to learn all you can about your disease. The more information you can gather before you begin treatment, the better you will feel about your decision, and the more active role you'll be able to take.

 

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