Having discussed about what surgical procedures have to offer in terms of breast cancer treatment, let us look into some other methods as well. Radiation therapy, like surgery also qualifies as a local therapy where specifically the tumor is treated without affecting the rest of the body. Other commonly known therapies like chemotherapy, targeted therapy and hormone therapy come under the purview of systemic therapy. Here, drugs are administered directly into the bloodstream with a view to reach the cancer cells present anywhere in the body.
High energy rays and particles are used to destroy the cancerous cells in this type of treatment. The primary objective of this therapy is to minimize the chance of cancer recurrence even after a patient has undergone BCS or mastectomy especially when the size of the cancerous tumor is more than 5 cm.
External Beam Radiation
As a very common radiation therapy treatment, this technique is implemented externally on the area affected by cancer. The status of BCS or mastectomy or lymph nodes actually determines the amount of radiation to be given. In case of BCS, usually the entire breast is treated with radiation. Moreover, an extra dosage is given at the place where the cancer was removed or to the entire breast end. On the other hand, in case of mastectomy, radiation is focused on the chest wall and places of drainage on the breast only if lymph nodes are not affected. But it is important that the therapy is given only when the tissues are able to heal after a surgery which might take more than a month.
This jargon refers to internal radiation wherein radioactive pellets are placed inside the breast tissue near the cancerous tumor. It is usually given along with external beam radiation to patients who have undergone BCS. Apart from this, brachytherapy can also be implemented in a localized manner where the whole breast is exempted from being exposed to radiation. This therapy is of two types, namely interstitial brachytherapy and intracavitary brachytherapy. The interstitial approach uses small catheters which are inserted into the breast around the affected area. Small radioactive pellets are inserted, kept for short periods and then removed. The most commonly used intracavitary brachytherapy involves putting a device from which accelerated radiation is emanated; it is placed in the remaining area after BCS and is removed only after the treatment is complete.
This systemic treatment deals with administering cancer killing drugs intravenously or orally. The therapy is given for several months in cycles at regular intervals where each cycle is succeeded by a recovery period. Chemotherapy is generally given in the following two cases.
Also known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy, this treatment has the ability to shrink larger cancers. This actually helps patients in having their cancer removed without undergoing any extensive surgery. Besides, this also helps doctors to identify the right set of chemo drugs that need to be given to the patient in case certain drugs fail to shrink the cancer. If the breast cancer is diagnosed as too large or locally advanced, then chemo is the only way in which the cancer can be shrunk.
Chemo given after surgery is called adjuvant chemotherapy. The treatment is given when no cancer cells are found after surgery. It is more like a double check or precautionary treatment to ensure that cancer cells that can’t be seen are not left behind. This is very crucial in early stages as well since cancer cells can break away from the tumor and spread through the bloodstream. Simply put, adjuvant chemo is instrumental in eliminating undetected cancer cells. In majority of cases a combination of chemo drugs is used for best results. Dense dose chemotherapy is another avenue where the cycles are given close to one another to improve the chances of preventing cancer recurrence.
The efficaciousness of a particular chemo drug or a particular radiation therapy would again depend upon the compatibility of the treatment with the patient or in other words the patient’s ability to respond to the same. In time, certain systemic treatment procedures have come forth and that too with far reaching effects. They not only engender positive results but also have very rare side effects.