Breast cancer treatments
Breast cancer treatment has been something of a lottery in the past with different doctors taking radically different approaches to the same type of cancer. These days the best hospitals have teams of cancer specialists who try to adopt a uniform approach to treatment based on the most up to date research into effectiveness and outcomes.
But you may still be faced with what may seem like terrifying decisions about your treatment as the options may vary according to the type and stage of the cancer, your age and personal preferences. The experts can inform, guide and advise you but ultimately you’re the one who has to make that all-important decision as to the best way forward.
Making a decision like that that when you’re still reeling from the shock of the initial diagnosis may be one of the toughest things you’ve ever had to do. Many women whose cancer has just been diagnosed find they’re too numb to even take in what the health professionals are telling them about their treatment options. Sound advice from women who’ve trod this lonely path before you is to make sure a close friend or relative is with you when these options are presented. Have a pen and paper so one or both of you can make detailed notes to mull over later in the less stressful environment of your own home. And ask about a follow up appointment so you can raise all the questions which will no doubt come to mind when you’ve had time to consider the treatment alternatives.
Just remember that in the vast majority of cases it’s not vital to rush into a treatment regime. By the time of diagnosis it’s likely that the breast cancer is so established that it makes no difference if the treatment starts immediately or within a few weeks. That might seem like a hard fact to come to terms with but it does give you plenty of time to think, do your own research if you wish, talk to family and friends and consult other health professionals if you feel the need to. It’s your body, your life and your decision.
The most common form of treatment for many years has been surgery (removal of part or all of the breast) followed by radiotherapy to destroy any lingering cancer cells in the breast. This may or may not be followed by chemotherapy – the use of drugs to kill off any cancer cells which may have spread to other parts of your body. Chemotherapy is sometimes recommended to shrink the tumour before surgery.
Hormonal therapy is now commonly used alongside other forms of treatment and involves the use of drugs to block the female sex hormone oestrogen (estrogen) which can help “feed” a cancerous tumour. The anti-oestrogen drug tamoxifen is now routinely prescribed to women who have undergone surgery to remove a tumour. Research studies indicate that women who take tamoxifen for five years after their surgery are far less likely to suffer a recurrence of the original cancer or to develop cancer in the other breast.
Alternative therapies, many of which are rooted in ancient Eastern philosophies, are becoming increasingly popular either as a complement to or a complete replacement for the traditional hospital approach. Many hospitals in the developed world are now embracing holistic treatments such as yoga, reiki, massage, meditation and acupuncture and are offering them as an integral part of their cancer care. The thinking behind this alternative approach is that the mind and spirit are huge forces - capable both of creating imbalances and ill health in the body and of being able to restore balance and good health.