The diagnosis of breast cancer is often a very emotional time, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s important to make an accurate diagnosis, obtain information on the cancer stage and then put together a plan of action for the treatment of the cancer. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer from a mammogram screening, then the mammogram was doing what it was supposed to do. It was finding breast cancer. And hopefully finding it early in a treatable fashion which will result in a cure.
There is new hope for breast cancer treatment with many new treatments being developed all the time, with better survival rates.
The good news is that after cancer treatment, most if not all of the side effects go away and your life gets back to normal.
We have put together some information to help provide a better idea on the breast cancer diagnosis as well as with breast cancer treatment options.
How is breast cancer diagnosed?
There are a number of different ways in which breast cancer may be diagnosed.
• Routine Mammograms
• Self Examination
• Breast MRI
Most commonly breast cancer is diagnosed from a routine mammogram screening, where an abnormality is seen on the mammogram.
Breast cancer can also be diagnosed on self-breast exam. This is when an individual notices a lump or a change in the breast, which leads to a doctor’s evaluation and a biopsy, resulting in a breast cancer diagnosis.
Breast cancer may sometimes be diagnosed on a breast MRI. And sometimes the mammogram is negative but an MRI of the breast is positive. Patients who get breast MRI’s sometimes have hereditary breast cancer and are screened with both a mammogram and breast MRI.
Changes in the Breast
Breast cancer may be diagnosed if there’s a change in the skin texture or the color, breast swelling or if there is nipple discharge, which can be clear or bloody. Sometimes an individual may develop breast pain as well.
If there is an abnormal area seen either on an x-ray or on an exam, the next step is to do a biopsy to confirm that a cancer is present. What is a biopsy? This is the medical removal of tissue from an individual to discover the presence, cause or extent of a disease, such as cancer.
The biopsy is sent to the pathology lab where it is reviewed under a microscope to identify whether there is cancer present or not. It is very important that a biopsy confirms the presence of breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatment
After a diagnosis of breast cancer is made by a biopsy and pathologic confirmation, the stage of breast cancer must be evaluated so that optimal treatment can be determined. This involves removing the tumor from the breast and checking the lymph glands to see if cancer has spread from the tumor in the breast to the lymph glands.
Additional tests may be involved such as CT or CAT scans to make sure the cancer has not spread beyond the breast and beyond the lymph nodes.
Once the stage of cancer is determined, the plan of cancer treatment must be decided. The treatment of breast cancer often requires surgery, sometimes chemotherapy, sometimes radiation and sometimes anti-estrogen treatment. A patient may end up seeing many different physicians, including a surgeon, a medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist.
Breast Cancer Surgery Options
Most people with breast cancer have some type of surgery to treat the cancer. Before any operation your surgeon will discuss with you which type of surgery is most appropriate in your case. Depending upon the circumstances, you will have the opportunity to choose between a mastectomy or lumpectomy surgery. A mastectomy is the total removal of a breast and a lumpectomy procedure involves the removal of a tumor from the breast. If both options are available, making the decision between the two can be a difficult personal decision. Listen to other breast cancer patients talk about their breast surgery decisions.
Chemotherapy is the treatment for a cancer with drugs that kill the cancer. Some treatments are intravenously, using a chemo port, while others use pills. While surgery takes place to completely remove the cancer from the breast and check the lymph glands, chemotherapy treatment is used to prevent the cancer from coming back throughout the body.
Radiation treatment can prevent the cancer from coming back in the breast where the cancer occurred or sometimes on the chest wall if a mastectomy was done. Radiation generally will come after the completion of chemotherapy. If chemotherapy is not needed as part of the treatment, then radiation will come after surgery, such as a lumpectomy.
Sometimes an anti-estrogen pill is recommended to prevent the cancer from coming back after chemotherapy is completed.
Targeted therapy may be another option for the treatment of breast cancer, using newer, targeted breast cancer drug therapy, such as Herceptin or Kadcyla.
Another option is to always consider participating in a research clinical trial at any part through your breast cancer treatment.
If a patient has a mastectomy, a reconstruction on that side with either an implant or with a surgical flap can be done so that the breast looks similar to the other breast. If a patient has a double mastectomy, breast reconstruction can be done as well.