October is the awareness month of breast cancer. In the previous article we have explained what is breast cancer and its signs. In this article we’ll talk about the different treatments of breast cancer. Most of us think that breast cancer treatment means hair fall, pain and losing weight. We all have this picture in our mind: a bald, skinny woman with her head covered by a wig or a scarf like Sawsan Badr in “أبو العروسة”. Let me reassure you, not all treatments cause hair fall or weight loss, but first let’s understand the solutions that medicine can offer us for now:
1. What are the different treatments of breast cancer that are available in Egypt?
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS) the treatment of breast cancer is decided by your doctor based on the disease stage, the nature of the cancer which has been observed during the biopsy (do the cancer cells contain hormones or HER2 proteins), how fast is the disease progressing, your age and general health condition.
-In stage 0, the ACS recommends surgery where the doctor will get rid of the tumor by removing part of the breast (breast conserving surgery) or the whole breast (mastectomy). After surgery, radiation therapy is needed to prevent recurrence of the cancer in other words to avoid any new cancer cells to be formed by the body. In radiation sessions, the used X-ray is of very high energy to be able to kill any cancer cell in the body. Sometimes, instead of radiation, the doctor can give you hormonal medications (like tamoxifen) after the surgery if the cancer cells have hormone proteins.
-In stages 1, 2 or 3, the doctor will usually recommend surgery and then radiation or drug therapy. Drug therapy are classified as hormonal (like the one used in stage 0), HER2 targeted medications or chemotherapy. The doctor can combine different types of medications based on the type of cancer you have and on how your body responds.
-In stage 4, it’s not common to use surgery or radiation as treatment. Usually, you will be taking combinations of different drug therapies with immunotherapy (medications that boosts the immune system to destroy cancer cells more effectively).
2. What are the side effects of each treatment?
Any treatment has some side effects. As long as that these side effects are not dangerous do not worry about anything. Radiation therapy can cause skin irritation, fatigue and nausea while hormonal medications can cause some hot flashes, vaginal discharge/irritation and nausea too. HER2 targeted drugs can lead to some damage in the heart that can be reversed spontaneously in most women when treatment is stopped. Hair fall, nausea, diarrhea/constipation, fatigue and mouth sores can happen during chemotherapy.
For surgery, there is no “real side effects”. What can annoy you psychologically is the full removal of the breast. But no worries, thanks to breast reconstructive surgery you can have a new breast that is cancer-free.
3.How long does it take to recover from breast cancer?
It really depends on how your body responds and on the disease stage. The stronger you are mentally, the shorter will be the treatment. The earlier the cancer has been detected the faster you will recover (that’s why it is really important to do your mammograms regularly once you are 40 years or above). An average range would be 3-12 months of treatment.
4. Can I have breast cancer again after recovery?
Sometimes after treatment, breast cancer come back again. But no worries, such cases are not common. Only 20% of women will have recurrent breast cancer within the first 5 years after treatment.
There’s no “best treatment” for breast cancer. There’s a treatment that your body will respond better to than another one. Most importantly, the best thing that you can do to guarantee a successful treatment is to remain strong and optimistic: in the past, you have beaten many diseases, then you can now beat breast cancer.