Breast Cancer - What exactly is it?
‘Breast cancer’ is a term that is used to refer to a malignant tumour, which has developed from cells present in the breast. Generally, all tumours can be divided into two categories i.e. benign and malignant and it is the malignant tumour that is responsible for causing cancer. Breast cancer generally originates in the cells the milk producing glands of the breast's or the passage, which carries milk from the glands to the lobules. Additionally, breast cancer can also originate in the stromal tissues, including the fibrous and fatty connective breast tissues.
Breast Cancer: Treatment Options
Treatment for breast cancer depends upon two things: the exact type of the cancer and how advanced the cancer is. Treatment options for breast cancer can thus be broadly divided into two categories as Local treatments and Systemic treatments.
Treatments that target the tumour without having any effect on the rest of the body are called local treatments. The following types of local treatment options are available for treating breast cancer:
- Surgery: Surgical breast cancer treatment involves removal of the malignant cancerous tumour in an operation. Smaller tumours can be removed using a surgical process referred to as ‘lumpectomy’, wherein the tumour along with a small amount of healthy tissue surrounding the tumour is removed. For larger tumours, removal of the entire breast becomes mandatory, in a surgical process known as ‘mastectomy’. Women who undergo mastectomy can choose to undergo reconstructive plastic surgery for reconstruction of the removed breast(s).
- Radiation Therapy: This basically involves using radiation to kill cancer cells present in the body. Radiation therapy is a long-drawn process that usually involves a set number of treatments administered over a long period of time. Radiation therapy is also generally the follow-up procedure after a lumpectomy, or more rarely, a mastectomy.
Treatments involving drugs that are administered via either the mouth or direct injection into the bloodstream are called systemic treatments. These include:
- Chemotherapy: This includes using drugs to destroy the cancer cells present in the body by stopping the cancer cells from growing and dividing. Chemotherapy can be administered using either an IV (intravenous) tube or via pills that can be swallowed.
- Hormone Therapy: This treatment option is used for treating tumours which have tested positive for progesterone or oestrogen receptors. Blocking hormones that fuel the tumour’s growth is the basis of this therapy.
- Targeted Therapy: This targets specific proteins and genes which contribute to growth and survival of the cancer cells. Targeted therapy is an extremely focused treatment, and is very effective in blocking the growth and division of cancer cells, as well as minimizing damage to surrounding healthy cells.