It must be understood that no cancer treatment outpaces the effectiveness or utility of another; treatment methods are rather complementary to each other and they offer a better chance of recovery when implemented adjacently. Hormones and genetic changes are responsible for certain physical changes in the human body and more so in case of a patient diagnosed with breast cancer. This is where the pertinence of the systemic therapies of hormones and targeting genetic changes become magnified.
Hormone Therapy
This is mostly used after surgery (adjuvant), but can also be used before (neoadjuvant). If cancer comes back after treatment or has spread, then hormone therapy is a very pragmatic option. Ovaries inside a woman’s womb are the primary source of the hormone estrogen. Estrogen often catalyses the growth of cancer cells; certain cancer cells have receptors for estrogen and/or progesterone and about 66% of breast cancer cases are hormone-receptor-positive. The therapy bars the hormones from acting on the cancer cells or tries to lower the estrogen levels; needless to say that patients whose cancer is hormone-receptor-negative need not undergo such therapy.
Hormone blocking drugs
Fulvestrant is a drug approved by certain drug associations and is generally used to treat advanced cancer. This functions as an anti-estrogen by blocking the estrogen receptors of the cancer cells and also eliminating them subsequently. It is administered through injections which are given two weeks apart in the first month and once a month after that. Tamoxifen & Toremifene are similar drugs which are effective in preventing the hormones from binding with the cancer cells; this actually stops the division and spreading of the same. These drugs are also known as SERM (selective estrogen receptor modulator) since they act like estrogen in some tissues and like an anti-estrogen in some.
Targeted Therapy
To begin with the bright side, this therapy has very less severe side effects. Here, the gene changes due to cancer are emphasized on with the help of targeted drugs. In about 20% of all breast cancer patients, there is a marked increase in a growth promoting protein (HER2). Excessive growth of this protein leads to aggressive spread of the cancer and hence requires special attention. Herceptin or Trastuzumab is a drug which is an immune system protein. This helps in putting a leash on the growth of cancer cells having high HER2 count.
Ado-Trastuzumab emtasine is a drug that is attached to a chemo drug called DM1. It is more like an antibody which acts like a guiding device carrying the chemo drug to the targeted cancer cells. Everolimus is another drug which targets a protein called mTOR which enhances cancer cell growth and division. This is also effective in stopping tumors from generating new blood vessels, thus stunting their growth. Bevacizumab is again an intravenous drug used along with chemo. It targets a growth protein named vascular endothelial growth factor. This is most commonly used in patients with metastatic or advanced breast cancer.
Finally, amidst the soiree of breast cancer treatments, let us also revert back to our ethnic roots of Ayurveda which has often offered solutions to problems which modern science fails to address. Ayurveda addresses the imbalance of certain hormones which results in the formation of cysts, thus leading to cancer. Panchkarma – the use of massage, steam bath and ayurvedic medicines, Yukti Vyapashraya – the process of removal of dead cells, Rasa Rasayan treatment – the use of medicines like kamadudha-ras, shankh-vati, ashwagandha, shatavari, laghu-sutshekhar-ras for removal of toxic elements and basic elements like mercury, copper, zinc and sulfur to treat deficiencies, are some of the most prominent ayurvedic treatments which have engendered phenomenal results when it comes to curing breast cancer. Ayurveda is also implemented in collaboration with certain chemical drugs for best results.
Numbers don’t lie; if we go by statistics regarding the relative survival rate of breast cancer patients, the numbers are improving gradually, if not by leaps and bounds. Latest reports suggest that stage I cancer patients have a 100% survival rate while around 13% of patients can be rendered disease free with the help of Ayurveda. Stage II breast cancer patients have a survival rate of 93% while around 65% of patients have experienced marked improvements with the help of ayurvedic treatments. At this optimistic pace, we can always look out for that silver lining that outlines the dark cloud of breast cancer.