How Long Does It Take For Chemo To Work For Breast Cancer
Then, at the end of the cycle, the chemo schedule repeats to start the next cycle. Adjuvant and neoadjuvant chemo is often given for a total of 3 to 6 months, depending on the drugs used. The length of treatment for advanced breast cancer is based on how well it is working and what side effects you have.
Because of this, neoadjuvant chemo is often used to treat cancers that are too big to be removed by surgery when first diagnosed . Also, by giving chemo before the tumor is removed, doctors can see how the cancer responds to it.
What Are Possible Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy
There are usually no immediate side effects from each radiation treatment given to the breast. Patients do not develop nausea or hair loss on the head from radiation therapy to the breast.
Most patients develop mild fatigue that builds up gradually over the course of therapy. This slowly goes away one to two months following the radiation therapy. Most patients develop dull aches or sharp shooting pains in the breast that may last for a few seconds or minutes. It is rare for patients to need any medication for this. The most common side effect needing attention is skin reaction. Most patients develop reddening, dryness anditching of the skin after a few weeks. Some patients develop substantial irritation.
Skin care recommendations include:
- Keeping the skin clean using gentle soap and warm but not hot water
- Avoiding extreme temperatures while bathing
- Avoiding trauma to the skin and sun exposure
- Avoiding shaving the treatment area with a razor blade
- Avoiding use of perfumes, cosmetics, after-shave or deodorants in the treatment area
- Using only recommended unscented creams or lotions after daily treatment
Tailoring Your Treatment Plan
Before a healthcare professional recommends a treatment plan, theyll collect and test a tumor sample to learn what type of breast cancer you have.
Some types of breast cancers are:
- Estrogen receptor-positive. This type of breast cancer grows more quickly in the presence of the hormone estrogen.
- Progesterone receptor-positive. This type of breast cancer grows more quickly in the presence of the hormone progesterone.
- Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 -positive. These cancers produce an overabundance of the HER2 protein, which drives the growth of the cancer cells.
Other types of breast cancers are:
- estrogen receptor-negative
These are known as triple-negative breast cancers.
If you have breast cancer thats estrogen receptor-positive, progesterone receptor-positive, or HER2-positive, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy or targeted therapy.
Fewer treatments are available for triple-negative breast cancer.
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Learning That Less Is More
Two generations ago, when a woman was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had a radical mastectomy a grueling procedure to remove the breast, the underlying chest muscle and the lymph nodes. This caused incredible disfigurement. A major step forward came in the 1960s when a randomized clinical trial showed that a simple mastectomy that left the chest muscle intact resulted in similar survival.
It was the beginning of realizing that sometimes less is more.
Its hard to pull back on treatment. It takes a certain type of patient and a certain type of bravery to be willing to forgo treatment in order to help determine if thats an option for future generations, says Anne Schott, M.D., professor of internal medicine and associate director of clinical research at the U-M Rogel Cancer Center.
Over time, studies have allowed surgeons to scale back treatment even more. Lumpectomy followed by radiation is just as effective as mastectomy. Many women do not need all their axillary lymph nodes removed, a procedure that can cause severe swelling and serious infections.
Weve come to understand that radical surgical treatment is not universally beneficial, says Jacqueline Jeruss, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Breast Care Center at the U-M Rogel Cancer Center.
What Are The Cosmetic Results Of Breast Conservation Therapy
Eighty percent to 90 percent of women treated with modern surgery and radiotherapy techniques have excellent or good cosmetic results that is, little or no change in the treated breast in size, shape, texture or appearance compared with what it was like before treatment.
Patients with large breasts seem to have greater shrinkage of the breast after radiation therapy than do patients with smaller breasts. However, this problem usually can be overcome with the use of higher x-ray energies or with IMRT. Partial breast radiation using brachytherapy can also be considered if the patient has a small early-stage tumor. This treatment is still undergoing clinical investigation. Certain single institution studies on brachytherapy and intraoperative radiation have shown some promising results. You would need to discuss this with your doctor before or shortly after surgery to determine if you qualify for partial breast radiation.
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Medically Reviewed by: Dr. BautistaUpdated on: September 1, 2021
Whether youre researching breast cancer treatment plans for yourself, a family member, or a friend you might initially feel like conventional therapy options are the only way to go when fighting ones diagnosis of cancer.
These traditional treatments for breast cancer include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery, but alternative medicine offers the chance to do something different. There are strict regulations that the U.S. has against doctors providing less invasive and non-invasive holistic treatments, which is why leaders in alternative therapies and complementary treatments can predominantly be found in Tijuana, Mexico.
When putting up a fight against breast cancer, alternative medicine is the best medical treatment, as it focuses on building your system up rather than tearing it down. At ITC, we dont just want to kill cancerous cells we want to keep you healthy in body and spirit while we do it.
Read on to learn about alternative treatment for breast cancer.
Local And Regional Recurrence Of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer that comes back in the breast, chest, scar or lymph nodes nearby is called a local or regional recurrence. This is not secondary breast cancer. If you have a local or regional recurrence, you may have tests to check the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.
We have more information about breast cancer recurrence.
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Improving Quality Of Life For Survivors
Ultimately, the goal is to help more women survive breast cancer . But as more women survive, more attention needs to be paid to the long-term impact of treatment.
Neuropathy, lymphedema, pain and sexual dysfunction can impact survivors for years after treatment ends. About a third of women experience moderate to severe fatigue up to 10 years later.
One of the things I like most about treating breast cancer is so many of my patients do well long term, Jagsi says. But what that means is we cant just look five years into the future with these patients. We have to be mindful of the toxicities and the burden were causing to our patients.
Oncologists are beginning to monitor for many of these side effects early on so they can be addressed before becoming major issues.
Breast cancer can also have a major impact on a persons employment and financial situation not just during treatment, but for years after. One study found that 30 percent of women who were working when they were diagnosed were unemployed four years later.
I just dont think anyone expected that, Jagsi says. Were doing so much better in so many ways at treating breast cancer, but a substantial number of patients are seeing true financial devastation from our treatment. We have an obligation to develop interventions that are inexpensive and scalable.
This goes hand in hand with many recent advances. How do we intensify treatment for those who need it and limit treatment for those who dont?
Myth #: People With Metastatic Breast Cancer Have A Short Amount Of Time Left
While some people mistakenly think MBC is curable, at the other extreme are those who assume its an immediate death sentence. But there is a big difference between stage IV incurable cancer, which MBC is, and terminal cancer, which can no longer be treated. A person isnt automatically terminal when she or he gets a metastatic diagnosis. Although MBC almost certainly will shorten someones life, it often can be managed for years at a time.
As Illimae of Houston points out: Stage IV is not an immediate death sentence. It feels that way at first but many have months/years of reasonably decent condition. Brain mets are not necessarily the end either. When found early and treated, especially with minimal disease in the body, life can resume to a fairly normal state.
Mermaid007 adds: hen I was diagnosed with bone mets I felt I needed to go home and get my affairs in order when here I am 4 and half years later.
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Treatment For Stage 2 Breast Cancer
The most common type of treatment for stage 2 breast cancer is surgery.
In most cases, treatment involves removing the cancer.
A person with stage 2A or 2B breast cancer may undergo a lumpectomy or mastectomy. The doctors and the individual can decide based on the size and location of the tumor.
A doctor may recommend a combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy to people with stage 2A or 2B breast cancer.
The subcategories for stage 3 breast cancer are 3A, 3B, and 3C.
3A breast cancer is an invasive breast cancer where:
- There is no tumor in the breast, or a tumor of any size is growing alongside cancer found in four to nine axillary lymph nodes or the lymph nodes by the breastbone.
- A person has a tumor greater than 5 cm, as well as clusters of breast cancer cells in the lymph nodes that are between 0.22 mm in diameter.
- The tumor is larger than 5 cm, and cancer has also spread to one to three axillary lymph nodes or the lymph nodes near the breastbone.
Stage 3B breast cancer is invasive breast cancer where:
- A tumor of any size has spread into the chest wall or skin of the breast, causing swelling or an ulcer to develop. It could also have spread to up to nine axillary lymph nodes or may have spread to lymph nodes by the breastbone.
If cancer spreads to the skin of the breast, a person may have inflammatory cancer.
Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer include:
Stage 3C breast cancer is an invasive breast cancer where:
Why Does My Provider Need To Test The Metastatic Tumor
Your care team will test the metastases to figure out the biology of the tumor, which can help guide your treatment plan. Providers may test tumors for:
- Hormone receptor status: If the cancer is hormone receptor-positive, hormonal therapy may be your first treatment.
- HER2 status: Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 is a protein that is overexpressed on some breast cancer cells. HER2-positive cancer responds to specific HER2-targeted therapies.
- PIK3CA gene mutation: If a tumor is hormone receptor-positive and HER2-negative, your provider may test for this gene mutation. Specific targeted therapies can be used to treat tumors with this mutation.
- PD-L1 status: Tumors that are hormone receptive-negative and HER2-negative may be tested for PD-L1 status. If the PD-L1 test is positive, you may be recommended to receive a combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy.
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How Is Estrogen Used To Treat Er Positive Breast Cancer
Estrogen occurs naturally in the body. Drugs that interfere with estrogens ability to promote cancer cell growth are used to treat ER-positive breast cancers. What is a hormone receptor? In breast cancer, hormone receptors are the proteins located in and around breast cells. These receptors signal cells both healthy and cancerous to grow.
Hormone therapy. All women who have ER-positive breast cancer will be recommended a type of hormone therapy. This type of therapy aims to prevent estrogen from activating cancer cell growth. In the past, premenopausal women were treated with a selective estrogen receptor modulator, like tamoxifen.
Dealing With Visible Side Effects Of Treatment
You may be able to see some of the side effects of breast cancer treatment, and this can take an emotional toll. But thereâs a lot you can do to overcome them, and that can help you feel better.
If you’ve had a mastectomy, you can use an external prosthesis instead of, or before, breast reconstruction surgery. You tuck it into a bra or attach it to your skin with double-sided tape.
If you chose to get one:
- Ask your doctor for a prescription for an external prosthesis. Then, it can usually be covered by insurance.
- Ask your oncologist for referral to a specialized store that sells external prostheses. You may also find them in some lingerie departments.
- Make an appointment with a breast prosthesis consultant and allow yourself about an hour to get fitted.
- Try a variety of them to see which feels and looks the best on you.
Some chemotherapy kills fast-growing cells like hair follicles, whether those cells are cancer or not. Hair loss is different for everyone, and it depends on the type of chemo you’re taking. Radiation and hormonal treatments may also cause this side effect.
If you lose hair from chemo, it’s likely to fall out within 1 to 2 weeks of starting treatment. It may thin or fall out almost all at once. It’s common to lose hair over your whole body, not just on your head. This means you may lose eyelashes and eyebrows as well as arm, leg, and pubic hair.
Here are some other tips that may help:
Weight gain or loss
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Tips To Help You Choose
Although there are some typical breast cancer treatment regimens, women do have choices.
- Talk with your doctor about all the risks and benefits of each treatment option and how they will affect your lifestyle.
- Think about joining a support group. Other people with breast cancer know what youâre going through and can give you advice and understanding. They might help you decide on a treatment, too.
- Ask your doctor whether you should join a clinical trial, a research study that tests new treatments before theyâre available to everyone.
Getting A Breast Biopsy
In a breast biopsy, the doctor takes out small pieces of breast tissue to check them for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only way to tell for sure if you have breast cancer.
There are many types of biopsies. Ask your doctor what kind you will need. Each type has risks and benefits. The choice of which type to use depends on your own case.
Sometimes, surgery is needed to take out all or part of the lump to find out if its cancer. This is often done in a hospital using local anesthesia . You might also be given medicine to make you sleepy.
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Whats The Outlook For Metastatic Breast Cancer
The right treatment plan can improve survival for people with metastatic breast cancer. However, survival rates vary and are dependent on a number of factors including type/biology of the breast cancer, parts of the body involved and individual characteristics. About 1 in 3 women live at least five years after diagnosis. Some live 10 years or longer. Your care team will discuss your prognosis with you in more detail.
Is Inoperable Breast Cancer Still Treatable
Although stage 3C breast cancer is defined as either operable or inoperable, an inoperable diagnosis doesnt necessarily mean that it cant be treated.
The term inoperable may mean that all the cancer in the breast and surrounding tissue cant be removed through simple surgery. When breast cancer is removed, a rim of healthy tissue around the tumor, called a margin, is also removed.
For breast cancer to be successfully removed, there needs to be healthy tissue in all margins of the breast, from your clavicle down to a few inches below the breast mound.
It is possible for inoperable breast cancer to become operable following a treatment to shrink the cancer.
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What About Natural Or Alternative Treatments
Until medical professionals find a cure for cancer, its smart to consider every treatment that might save your life or make you feel better, safely. And to discuss all your options with your doctor.
Whether its a medical, natural, or alternative treatment, ask these questions:
- What data can you show me that this treatment works?
- What is the expected benefit of this treatment?
- What is the expected downside of this treatment?
- Will this help me live a longer life?
- Will this help me live the rest of my life comfortably?
- What is the likelihood that this treatment will actually cure me?
- Is this treatment approved by the FDA?
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Any device, pill, powder, cream, tea, oil, or kit that claims to treat cancer is supposed to be approved or cleared by the FDA. But there are bogus products out there.
Watch out for these red flags:
- One treatment that claims to cure any or many kinds of cancer
- Personal stories instead of facts and data
- Phrases like all natural and miracle cure
- Claims that its more effective than chemotherapy
No alternative or natural cancer treatments have been proven to cure cancer. But there are some safe non-medical treatments — like acupuncture, massage, meditation, and yoga — that help offset side effects like fatigue, nausea, and pain.
Cancer Research UK: What Is Cancer?
National Cancer Institute: Cancer Types, Milestones in Cancer Research and Discovery.