What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer therapies are improving all the time, and individuals now have more alternatives than ever before. With so many options, it’s a good idea to understand everything you can about the ones that can benefit you.
All breast cancer therapies aim to achieve two things:
- To get rid of as much cancer as possible in your body
- To prevent the sickness from returning
How Do I Choose the Best Breast Cancer Treatment?
Your doctor will think about a few factors before they propose a therapy for you:
- The type of breast cancer you have
- The size of your tumour and the extent to which cancer has spread in your body is referred to as the stage of your disease.
- Whether your tumour possesses something called receptors for HER2 protein, oestrogen, progesterone, or other particular traits.
Your age, whether you’ve gone through menopause, any other health concerns you have, and your personal preferences all go into this choice.
What Are the Different Kinds of Breast Cancer Treatment?
Some therapies eliminate or eradicate the illness within the breast and adjacent tissues, such as lymph nodes. These are some examples:
Surgery. The initial step for most people is to remove the tumour. A lumpectomy is a surgical procedure that eliminates only the cancerous portion of your breast. It’s also known as breast-conserving surgery. A mastectomy involves the removal of the whole breast. Mastectomies and lumpectomies are classified into several categories.
Radiation treatment. High-energy waves are used in this treatment to eliminate cancer cells. Most women under the age of 70 who have a lumpectomy also get radiotherapy. If the illness has spread, doctors may also prescribe this technique. It aids in the destruction of any cancer cells that the surgeon was unable to eradicate. Radiation can come from a machine outside your body, or you can have microscopic seeds that give out radiation inserted within your breast where the tumour was. Other therapies either eliminate or regulate cancer cells throughout your body:
Chemotherapy. Employs the use of medications to destroy cancer cells. The medications are administered either orally or intravenously. Most individuals get it after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells. Doctors frequently use it before surgery to shrink malignancies. Chemotherapy is effective against cancer, but it can also destroy healthy cells.
Hormone treatment. Involves the use of medications to inhibit hormones, particularly oestrogen, from driving the development of breast cancer cells. Tamoxifen (Nolvadex) is used to treat women before and beyond menopause, while aromatase inhibitors such as anastrozole (Arimidex), exemestane (Aromasin), and letrozole (Femara) are used to treat postmenopausal women. Some forms of this therapy function by preventing the ovaries from producing hormones, either surgically or by medication. Fulvestrant (Faslodex) is an injectable that inhibits the attachment of oestrogen to cancer cells.
Targeted therapies such as fam-trastuzumab-deruxtecan-nxki (Enhertu), lapatinib (Tykerb), pertuzumab (Perjeta), and trastuzumab (Herceptin) stimulate your immune system to aid in the destruction of cancer cells. These drugs target breast cancer cells that have high amounts of a protein called HER2. T-DM1, also known as ado-trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla), is a cancer treatment that combines Herceptin with the chemotherapeutic drug emtansine to target HER2-positive cancer cells. In women with some forms of advanced cancer, abemaciclib (Verzenio), palbociclib (Ibrance), and ribociclib (Kisqali) are frequently used in combination with an aromatase inhibitor or fulvestrant (Faslodex).
In women who have already received hormone treatment and chemotherapy, abemaciclib (Verzenio) can be administered alone. Alpelisib (Piqray) is a PI3K inhibitor used to treat breast cancer in men and women who have a specific gene alteration as a result of hormonal therapy. Neratinib (Nerlynx) is also effective against HER2-positive breast cancer by preventing cancer cells from receiving growth signals. PARP (poly ADP ribose polymerase) inhibitors are a novel family of medications that target an enzyme that feeds cancer cells. PARP inhibitors include olaparib (Lynparza) and talazoparib (Talzenna).
Immunotherapy. Employs your immune system to attack cancer. To treat triple-negative breast cancer that has spread, the medications atezolizumab (Tecentriq) and sacituzumab govitecan-hziy (Trodelvy) have been authorised.
Along with surgery or radiation, you may receive chemotherapy, hormone treatment, or targeted therapy. They can eliminate any cancer cells left behind from previous treatments.
Advice to Assist You in Making a Decision
While there are certain standard breast cancer treatment regimens, patients do have options.
- Discuss with your doctor the risks and advantages of each treatment choice, as well as how they will influence your lifestyle.
- Consider joining a support group. Other breast cancer survivors understand what you’re going through and can provide advice and understanding. They could assist you to decide on therapy, too.
- l Consult your doctor about participating in a clinical trial, which is a research study that assesses novel medicines before they are made accessible to the general public.
Health Risks of Diagnosis
The majority of breast cancer therapies include adverse effects. When the therapy is stopped, many people disappear. Some may appear later. Common side effects include:
- Gain or loss of weight
- Arm enlargement
- Hair loss
- Changes in the skin or nails
- Mouth sores
- Symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes
- Problems conceiving Depression
- Difficulties sleeping Difficulties thinking clearly (“chemo brain”)
Infertility, Premature Menopause, and Cancer Treatment
A quarter of the almost 285,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States each year had not reached menopause.
Some breast cancer chemotherapy and hormone treatment medicines might result in permanent or temporary infertility or early menopause. Women who have not yet reached menopause should take birth control while undergoing these treatments, as some chemotherapy medicines have been associated with birth abnormalities.
Chemotherapy-induced menopause affects 10% to 50% of women before the age of 40 and 50% to 94% of women over the age of 40. After chemotherapy, you may experience months or even years of inconsistent ovarian function.
Radiation therapy will not induce infertility unless both ovaries are targeted. Your ovaries may be surgically removed or radiated to reduce the amount of oestrogen your body produces, depending on the kind and degree of your breast cancer. This will induce irreversible infertility.
Women with breast cancer who desire to start or extend their family later in life should investigate fertility preservation methods before commencing treatment. These are some examples:
- Eggs or embryos are frozen.
- Ovarian tissue is frozen. For the first time, reimplanting previously frozen ovarian tissue restored ovarian function in a woman in 1999. This procedure, while not generally available, does not need ovarian stimulation.
- Donation of eggs. You can acquire eggs from a donor that are fertilised and implanted following cancer therapy.
- Reproductive organ suppression is caused by hormones. Hormones are used in this method to render your reproductive organs latent (inactive). It appears to protect the cells that grow into eggs (germ cells) against chemotherapy damage. This method is still being researched.
Managing Treatment’s Visible Side Effects
Some of the adverse effects of breast cancer therapy may be visible, which can be emotionally draining. But there is a lot you can do to conquer them, which will make you feel better.
After a mastectomy, you can utilise an external prosthesis instead of or in addition to breast reconstruction surgery. You may tuck it inside your bra or use double-sided tape to secure it to your skin.
If you choose to obtain one:
- Request an external prosthesis prescription from your doctor. It is then frequently covered by insurance.
- Request a referral from your oncologist to a specialised business that offers external prostheses. They are also available at several lingerie stores.
- Make an appointment with a breast prosthesis expert and allow an hour for fitting.
- Try on a few different ones to see which one feels and looks best on you.
Some chemotherapy destroys fast-growing cells like hair follicles, whether those cells are malignant or not. Hair loss is different for everyone, and it is affected by the type of chemotherapy you are receiving. This adverse effect may also be caused by radiation and hormone therapy.
If you lose hair as a result of chemo, it will most likely fall out within 1 to 2 weeks after beginning treatment. It may thin or fall out practically all at once. Hair loss is frequent across the body, not only on the head. This implies you might lose your eyelashes, brows, arm, leg, and pubic hair.
Hair might start growing back even before your treatment is finished. It may be thinner or have a different hue or texture.
You can prepare for hair loss and make it more manageable. Many women, for example, find it beneficial to cut their hair short before it begins to fall out. This way, you won’t lose enormous clumps of it in the shower or wake up with a lot on your pillow.
Here are some further suggestions:
Before your hair falls out, consider purchasing scarves, turbans, caps, or hats.
Request a “cranial prosthesis” prescription from your oncologist to assist secure insurance reimbursement for a wig.
l To learn more about wig and hair product alternatives, contact wig stores and manufacturers, your hair stylist, or the American Cancer Society Match your hair texture or colour to wigs before beginning chemotherapy. This is also an excellent opportunity to get your wig styled. However, if you were fitted for a wig early on, be aware that it may fit slightly differently if you lose your hair Prepare loved ones, especially youngsters, for how you will seem without your hair. It may be beneficial to include children in the selection of scarves and other items If you decide to become bald, remember to wear sunscreen on your head when you’re out in the sun. Keep your head warm in chilly weather as well.
This is referred to as lymphedema by doctors. It’s arm swelling on the side where you underwent breast or lymph node surgery. It can also occur after receiving radiation. It is frequently a transient side effect, but it might be persistent. If this is the case, it may have an impact on your quality of life.
- You can decrease its impact if you recognise the signs early.
- Any swelling in your arm should not be ignored.
- Affected arm skin should not be injured.
- Wear gloves when gardening or doing chores.
- Avoid drastic temperature swings in the water.
- Protect your arm from the sun.
- Avoid obtaining injections or IVs on your afflicted arm.
- Carry large purses and avoid wearing heavy jewellery on the afflicted side.
The swelling may limit the items you may wear. To decrease swelling, you may require an elastic compression sleeve as well as loose-fitting clothing.
Request a referral from your doctor to a qualified lymphedema therapist. They can demonstrate safe workouts and other approaches that might help you avoid or minimise swelling.
Gain or loss of weight
During your therapy, you may experience either. Weight loss might be caused by nausea, vomiting, or changes in appetite. Weight gain can be caused by chemotherapy or hormone treatment, both of which can cause early menopause. However, several other drugs you may be taking, as well as changes in your diet and being less active, might cause you to gain weight.
Now is not the time to go on a diet. Eat good, balanced meals to help you maintain a healthy weight, maintain energy, and heal.
These suggestions may be useful:
- Consume enough protein while avoiding saturated fat, sweets, alcohol, and salt.
- If you’re feeling nauseous, eat smaller meals more often throughout the day.
- Exercise can aid with weight loss and keep your hunger in check. Exercise also helps with other negative effects including weariness and sadness. Consult your doctor to determine the appropriate amount of activity for you.
- Find a workout buddy to help you keep to a schedule. Even a few minutes a day might make a difference in your mood.
Skin and nail modifications
These may appear with chemotherapy, radiation, or endocrine treatment.
The following skin modifications are possible:
- Veins darkening
If you expose your skin to the sun, the redness caused by radiation and some forms of chemotherapy may worsen.
A skin injury can occur if chemo chemicals administered through a vein (IV) spill onto the skin.
Inform your doctor about any skin cracks or wounds that may get infected. Also:
- Before using any skin care products, consult with your medical staff. Lotions, powders, fragrances, creams, deodorants, body oils, and home cures all fall under this category. Some product additives might aggravate skin responses.
- Avoid detergents that include colours or fragrances.
- Maintain clean and dry skin. After showering, use a gentle soap and pat your skin dry.
- To combat dry skin, apply a thick moisturiser as directed by your doctor many times each day.
- When out in the sun, wear sunscreen.
- Wear natural textiles like cotton and silk that are loose-fitting.
Nail beds may darken or become discoloured. Your nails may fracture, split, or become hard. They may even lift off the nail bed at times. Inform your doctor if this occurs. It raises the possibility of infection. Other nail care suggestions:
- Cut them short to reduce splitting.
- Avoid using fake nails, since they may increase the risk of infection. It is acceptable to apply nail polish, but it should be removed with a non-acetone-based remover that is less drying.
- Massage a cuticle remover lotion or gel into your nails.
- Do not bite or rip at your cuticles or nails.
- Wear gloves when gardening or doing chores.
- Avoid professional manicures by bringing your own sterilised tools.
- Reduce the amount of time you have your hands in water to reduce the risk of fungal infection.
Skin and nail changes normally disappear when your therapy is finished.
Depression and Sadness
Your emotions will be affected by your breast cancer experience. You may experience fatigue, frustration, anger, and sadness at various periods. Depression is a common side effect of breast cancer treatment. Chemotherapy, hormone treatment, and various pain relievers can all contribute to or exacerbate these sensations.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Insufficient energy
- Loss of interest in activities that you normally like
- Sleeping difficulties or sleeping more than normal
- Feeling defeated
- Suicidal ideas
Speak with your doctor if you are depressed. They can assist you in determining if it is due to depression or acute exhaustion. They might be able to replace one or more of your drugs. They could recommend supplementary medicine like yoga or art therapy. They can prescribe antidepressants or refer you to a therapist if necessary.
Depression might make it difficult to stick to your cancer therapy. It is critical to moderate the emotion so that it does not overwhelm you. There are a few basic things you may take to make yourself feel better gradually:
- Keep in mind that your emotions might and will fluctuate.
- Do things that make you feel peaceful and relaxed: take a stroll, watch your favourite TV show, or work on a puzzle.
- Get some little exercise.
- maintain a balanced diet and avoid sugary, processed foods and alcohol.
- Spend time with a friend or family member every day.
- Find someone to talk to, whether it’s a friend, family member, or therapist.
- Take it easy on yourself: Don’t expect to do all you did before cancer at the same speed. Break down chores into smaller chunks and ask for help when feasible.
- Defer major decisions, such as moving professions or marrying, until you feel better.
Treatment for Palliative Care
Both breast cancer and its treatment induce symptoms and adverse effects. Even though the primary objective of your therapy is to cure you, palliative care that alleviates pain and mental distress is an important aspect of your care. You can receive palliative care while still receiving disease-curing treatment.
The sort of palliative care you receive is determined by various factors, including:
- Your particular symptoms
- Your overall health
- The stage of cancer you have
- Your desires
Discuss palliative care with your doctor at the outset of your therapy. They’ll help you select the type that meets your needs as your therapy goes on. Medication, chemo or radiation to reduce tumours and relieve pain, dietary modifications, mental health treatment, stress reduction, and other choices may be available to you.
This refers to procedures that are not mainstream medical practice but can be utilised in conjunction with it as part of your overall cancer treatment strategy. It differs from alternative medicine, which is utilised instead of conventional medical care. Some alternative remedies lack scientific support. They not only won’t treat your cancer, but they might be hazardous as well.
Complementary medicine does not directly treat cancer. However, it can assist you:
- Reduce cancer or treatment-related symptoms such as nausea and discomfort.
- Reduce anxiety and stress
- You will feel more in command of your therapy.
- Improve your quality of life
These are just a handful of the numerous kinds of alternative medicine available:
- Meditation, hypnosis,
- and guided imagery are all forms of yoga or tai chi.
- Creative therapy, such as painting, writing, music, or crafts
- Botanicals for massage, including herbs and cannabis
Talk to your doctor first if you wish to use alternative medicine as part of your treatment plan. Some seemingly innocuous activities can be hazardous when you have cancer or have a negative influence on your treatment. Your doctor can recommend therapies that are appropriate for you and are safe and effective in meeting your goals for utilising them. On its website, the National Cancer Institute lists current clinical trials for alternative medicines.
The ‘Look Good, Feel Better’ Initiative
“Look Good Feel Better” is a campaign created by the American Cancer Society, the Personal Care Products Council, and the National Cosmetology Association. This programme offers beautification practices that can improve your look and self-esteem following cancer treatment.