Breast Cancer Treatment - The Complete Breakdown

Senin, 19 November 2012

Conventional therapies are probably the most common form of breast cancer treatment that people are aware of, however, many do not fully realize what they imply. Health care professionals use these treatments because, the best available scientific research has shown them to be safe and effective. But wait... there's more!

Conventional treatment for breast cancer , as for any other cancer, usually consists of surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy, which aims to attack or remove the cancer. These methods have been scientifically tested, and are constantly being improved in well-designed clinical trials, that explore whether the medicine or treatment is safe and whether it works for a particular disease or medical condition.

So in essence (aside from surgery), there are two other conventional breast cancer treatments which are chemotherapy, and radiation. So let's explore these two for now... But there is a third.

1. Chemotherapy is a method of treating cancer by using drugs. Often, a combination of chemotherapy drugs is used. Cancer cells grow in an uncontrolled way, and therefore the purpose of chemotherapy drugs is to slow or even stop the cancer cells from growing, multiplying or spreading to other parts of your body. Chemotherapy is a powerful treatment affecting the whole body, therefore healthy cells can also be damaged. This damage to healthy cells causes side effects (like loss of hair etc.). The damage is mostly temporary and the healthy cells will repair themselves. Everyone is different and therefore everyone's cancer treatment and side effects are different.

2. Next we have radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is the use of a certain type of energy (radiation) from x-rays, gamma rays, electrons and other sources to destroy cancer cells. Other names for this common method of treating cancer are radiotherapy, x-ray therapy or irradiation.

Radiation in high doses destroys cells in the area being treated by damaging the DNA in their genes, making it impossible for them to grow and divide. During radiation therapy, both cancer cells (which are growing in an uncontrolled way) and healthy cells are affected, but most healthy cells can repair themselves afterwards.

Within radiation therapy, there are three types of treatment... external beam radiation therapy, brachytherapy, and systemic radiation therapy. Let's explore those three:

A. External beam radiation therapy. In external beam radiation therapy, radiation is directed at the cancer and surrounding tissue from a machine outside the body. It is used to treat most types of cancers. External beam radiation therapy is usually done on an outpatient basis, which means you won't have to stay overnight at the hospital. For many, one treatment is given each day from Monday through Friday and these treatments may continue for several weeks.

Almost everyone who has external beam radiation therapy will have a planning session (simulation) before treatment can begin. The radiation therapist uses a machine called a simulator to set up your treatment. A simulator is not a treatment machine. The most common type of simulator used is a CT simulator. It can take images or scans, which provide a picture of the area to be treated. These pictures help your radiation therapy team plan your treatment and decide how to direct the radiation to your body.

The treatment itself is painless. You will be alone while you are receiving treatment, but your therapists will watch you on a closed circuit television monitor and listen on an intercom. They might come back into the treatment room to adjust the machine's position from time to time. If you need to, you can call out or signal to them. They can stop the treatment and assist you. External beam radiation therapy doesn't make you radioactive, and it is safe for you to be with other people right after your treatment.

B. Brachytherapy. Brachytherapy makes it possible to treat the cancer with a high total dose of radiation in a concentrated area in a short period of time. In brachytherapy, sealed radioactive sources are placed in the body, in or near the cancer. A sealed radioactive source is often called an implant.

The different ways of placing the implant in the body are...

Interstitial, where the implant is placed right into the tumor (for example, into the prostate).

Intracavitary, where the implant is placed in special applicators inside a body cavity (for example, inside the cervix).

Intraluminal, where the implant is placed in special applicators inside a body passage (for example, inside the esophagus).

Surface or mold where the implant is placed on the surface of a tumour (for example, on the eye).

If you have brachytherapy, you will need to be at the hospital for several hours or longer. Having an implant inserted is usually done in a hospital operating room using a local or general anesthetic. Imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or a CT scan, may be used to make sure the implant is placed correctly, and computers are used help calculate and plan treatment.

Implants come in different shapes (in the form of seeds, needles or wires) and can contain different radioactive materials. Implants can be permanent or temporary.

A permanent implant stays in place forever. The implant (sometimes called a seed) releases small doses of radiation slowly over a period of time, until the radioactivity gradually fades away.The radiation affects only a very small area around the implant, and there is little danger of it affecting other people. You may, however, need to take certain safety measures for a period of time.

A temporary implant does not stay in place forever. If you have a temporary implant, part of the process will be to have special applicators (such as hollow tubes) placed in the body. These are used to deliver the radiation sources. Temporary implants can be either low-dose-rate or high-dose-rate:

If you have low-dose-rate therapy, you may need to stay in the hospital for a few days. Once the applicator is in place, the radioactive sources will be inserted into it. Once they are inserted, you will need to stay in a special room in the hospital or cancer centre. Hospital procedures are in place to protect hospital staff and visitors from the radiation.

The radioactive implant delivers the dose slowly during your stay. You will not feel the treatment as it is being given, but if an applicator is holding the implant in place, you may find it somewhat uncomfortable. Depending on where the applicator is placed, you may have to stay in bed and lie still to keep it from shifting. If you need it, you may be given some medicine to help you relax or relieve pain. When your treatment is done, the radioactive sources and applicator will be removed and it will be safe for others to be with you. This will likely be done in your hospital room and you won't need anesthetic. The treated area may be sore or sensitive for some time.

If you have high-dose-rate therapy, it may be done on an outpatient basis. Once the applicator is in place, it can be attached to a machine that is able to give high doses of radiation. The machine sends the radioactive sources to specific spaces within the applicator. Treatment takes a few minutes and once it is finished, the radioactive sources go back into the machine. You are not radioactive. Depending on the area being treated, you may have one to six sessions over a period of time. The only time that you are kept away from other people is during the actual treatment. Once your treatment is completely finished, your applicator will be removed. An anesthetic is not usually needed and most can be taken out right in your hospital room. The area that has been treated may be sore or sensitive for some time.

C. Systemic radiation therapy is when the radiation source is given as a liquid (either as a drink or in capsules that are swallowed) or by injecting it into a vein (an intravenous injection). The radiation source travels throughout the body.

If you have systemic radiation therapy, you may need to stay in a special room in the hospital for a number of days after the radioactive sources have been swallowed or injected. Some of the radioactive sources will leave your body through body fluids such as saliva, sweat and urine. Most of the radiation is gone from your body within a few days, but until the high levels of radioactivity are gone, you may have to take certain safety measures or precautions.

The therapy itself isn't painful, and you can't feel the radiation traveling throughout your body. If you are given a drink or capsule, it will be like swallowing any other type of medicine. It doesn't have a strong taste or smell. If your treatment is given by intravenous injection, you will need to have a needle. Some people find this uncomfortable, but after the needle is inserted, the treatment itself isn't painful.

Systemic radiation therapy can sometimes be given on an outpatient basis. Although you may not need to stay in the hospital, you may still need to take certain safety measures at home. Your radiation therapy team will talk to you about what you need to do.

There is another form (the third form) of breast cancer treatment which is rapidly becoming very popular... and that is alternative therapies.

More and more people want to know about alternative therapies, and wonder whether using them would help in their cancer experience. The decision to use a alternative therapy is a personal one, but if you are thinking about trying an alternative therapy, be sure to make an informed choice. The best types of informed choices is other people's experiences through books etc.

There has been very little scientific research done on alternative therapies, so we often don't know whether they are safe and we don't know whether or how they help people with cancer. Whether a therapy is considered to be complementary or alternative depends on its purpose or how it is used.

Complementary therapies are used together with conventional treatments. They may help people cope with the disease, its treatment or side effects, rather than treat the disease itself. Many people say that they have been helped by these therapies, but research is needed to understand if they are safe and effective.

An example of a complementary therapy is using meditation to help with stress or anxiety during radiation therapy.

Alternative therapies, however, are used instead of conventional treatments. Alternative therapies are not part of conventional treatments for cancer because they have not been scientifically proven to be safe and effective. An example of an alternative therapy is using a special diet to treat cancer instead of undergoing chemotherapy or another conventional treatment.