More and more people today are surviving Breast Cancer. This cancer used to be a death sentence among women but with research and financial backing, large strides are being made and the best has yet to come. There was a time when the standard approach was a radical mastectomy, which involved removal of not just the breast, but all the lymph nodes in the armpit and underlying muscles in the chest wall. That was what you had to look forward to. Today we have less extensive surgery that has proved to be equally effective at treating patients, as well as safer and less disfiguring. Mastectomies have become far less common.
Currently, most women with early-stage breast cancer have a lumpectomy in which only the tumor and a small margin of surrounding normal tissue are removed, along with a few lymph nodes. Patients then receive localized radiation therapy and drug therapy to head off a recurrence. Even though this approach is less aggressive, it is a combined result of earlier diagnosis and medical therapies developed through investments in cancer research. Depending on the molecular nature of a woman’s tumor, postoperative hormonal or other drug treatments are routinely prescribed to prevent or delay a recurrence of disease.
Instead of waiting for breast cancer to recur in certain high-risk patients, techniques are being developed to outsmart the breast cancer cell’s aggressive tactics by using the patient’s own immune system to launch a continuous attack that keeps the disease at bay indefinitely. Another nonsurgical approach involves destroying the tumor by freezing it with an ice probe, but leaving it in place so that the immune system can be trained to attack it. The patient then would be given an immune stimulant to help the immune system recognize the cancer as foreign tissue. Tests are being developed to help doctors predict an individual patient’s response to various therapies.
Patients are encouraged to become well-informed about their disease and possible therapies and to participate in treatment decisions. It is not becoming the doctor’s choice of which treatment to use. What a woman chooses may depend on such factors as her age, values, personal circumstances, professional concerns and risk tolerance. There’s no right or wrong decision, as long as patients are well-informed and choose what is best for them.
Gone is the simplistic notion that cancer is a disease of abnormal cell division. It’s a disease of abnormal relationships between the cancer cell and other cells in its environment. Cancer cells require other cells in their vicinity to help them grow. Understanding how the cells interact opens new opportunities to keep breast cancer cells from forming a tumor. The idea that if there’s one cancer cell left it will definitely grow and cause trouble is no longer an acceptable belief.
Breast Cancer Vaccine
Once cancer has spread to other regions of the body, the effectiveness of treatment is reduced. Studies are being preformed on ways to prevent such occurrences.A specially designed vaccine called NeuVax, is in the final stage of multinational clinical tests. The vaccine is made from a peptide, a small piece of a cancer protein, that is combined with an immune stimulant. Early results suggest that the vaccine can reduce the risk of recurrence by 50 percent among breast cancer patients whose tumors produce low levels of the protein HER2 which is a marker for more aggressive breast cancer. The vaccine is given at the time of initial treatment, when few if any cancer cells are present.
Even radiation therapy for breast cancer has changed to help reduce side effects and minimize potential long-term damage to organs under the breast. After surgery is performed to remove the tumor, the breast may be only partly irradiated. Radiation can be focused on the cancerous area using a more intense but shorter course of treatment. We all know or have come to understand that chemotherapy is anything but pleasant. So the future looks bright for breast cancer treatment.
Are you a breast cancer survivor?