There are many different types of breast cancer. Each is named after that part of the breast where cancer cells begin to grow. Ductal carcinoma is the most common type. It begins in the cells of the ducts. Lobular carcinoma is another type of breast cancer that starts in the lobes or lobules. If a tumor remains within the duct or lobule, it is known as carcinoma in situ; a tumor that spreads outside the duct or lobule is known as infiltrating or invasive carcinoma.
Doctors diagnose and classify breast cancer according to stages (stages 0 through IV). In order to determine the stage of breast cancer, the oncologist considers three important factors: tumor size, nodal status, and metastasis.
Today there are an increasing number of options for treating breast cancer.
The primary method of local treatment is surgery, in which case tumor(s) are removed from the breast. Procedures such as lumpectomy or mastectomy would apply. Surgery can also include the removal of axillary lymph nodes.
Radiation therapy, which is applied at the site of the cancer, is another form of local treatment. Radiation destroys single or very small clusters of cancer cells that may still exist even after surgery. You can expect to receive radiation therapy 5 days a week for 5-6 weeks. The good news is that each treatment lasts for only a few minutes.
Following surgery and/or radiation therapy, most patients will be treated with chemotherapy or hormonal therapy to eliminate any remaining cancer cells.
Chemotherapy is a treatment that is intended to kill cancer cells in the body. There are different types of chemotherapy but all of them have the potential for causing side effects, some of which can be serious. The best way to find out about drug-related side effects is to ask your doctor.
Hormonal therapy is a medical treatment to reduce a patient’ s estrogen level or prevent estrogen from reaching the tumor. Estrogen plays an important role in breast cancer because it feeds some tumors and makes them grow and spread. These breast cancers are termed hormone dependent or estrogen dependent or estrogen receptor-positive. Hormonal therapy in breast cancer works to block the effect of estrogen, either directly or indirectly. In premenopausal women, the ovaries are the primary source of estrogen production. In postmenopausal women, the ovaries no longer produce estrogen. However, the body produces some estrogen from other hormones known as androgens through the action of an enzyme called aromatase. The goal of hormonal therapy in breast cancer is to deprive the cancer cells of the estrogen that allows them to grow.
The exact cause of breast cancer is unknown. Factors that can increase a woman’ s risk include heredity, early puberty, late childbearing, obesity, and lifestyle factors such as heavy alcohol consumption and smoking. The biggest risk factor for breast cancer is age — just growing older. Most breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50, and women over 60 are at the highest risk.
A woman’ s risk for developing breast cancer increases if her mother, sister, daughter, or two or more other close relatives, such as cousins, have a history of breast cancer, especially at a young age. However, 85% of women who develop breast cancer have NO known family history of the disease.
Making the right treatment decision usually requires an in-depth discussion with your doctor. Don’ t be afraid to assert yourself. Now is the time to stand up for yourself and communicate any questions, needs, fears, or concerns.
Here is a list of questions to help you get the most out of your time with the doctor.
You may want to print this page and bring it with you to your doctor’s office so that you don’ t forget anything and so that you can take notes during your discussion.
- Why do you recommend this treatment or procedure? What do you expect it to do for me?
- What are the possible risks? How likely is it that I am at risk for certain side effects or negative reactions?
- How long will this treatment take? How often do I receive it? How is it given?
- Are there more or less aggressive options open to me?
- What happens if I choose to receive no treatment?
- What are the symptoms that usually develop with my type of cancer? How are they treated? Is this treatment any different from those with the goal of remission?
- How will these treatments affect my quality of life? Will I still be able to do the things that I enjoy? Can I work, take care of my kids, go on vacation?
- What lifestyle changes would you recommend I consider during my treatment?
- How and when will the effectiveness of the treatment be evaluated?
On March 7th, 1996 Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy, the two Swiss-based chemical/life sciences giants, became Novartis