Breast Cancer: Understanding Your Treatment Options

Health Monitor Staff
  • Internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy): With this type, a radiation oncologist places one or more thin tubes inside the cancerous breast, then loads a radioactive substance into the tubes. After a few minutes, the radioactive substance is removed. After a lumpectomy, your doctor may place the radioactive substance in the pocket from which the lump was removed.   

    It might be right for you if: You are over age 50 and you’ve had a small tumor removed by lumpectomy, with no positive lymph nodes. It may be used alone or in addition to external radiation to the whole breast.

    What you should know: Some women treated with lumpectomy/brachytherapy may later require a mastectomy if it’s discovered that the original tumor had already spread to other parts of the breast.

Systemic treatments

Chemotherapy (chemo) medication can be used to shrink (and possibly eliminate) a tumor before surgery and to kill cancerous cells that remain in the body after surgery.
It might be right for you if:
You have invasive breast cancer that is hormone receptor-negative, your tumor is hormone receptor-positive and you choose to have chemo along with hormone therapy, your tumor is large and your doctor wants to shrink it prior to surgery (this is called neoadjuvant therapy), you’ve had surgery and want to kill unseen cancer cells, or your cancer has spread and is now growing in other locations, such as your bones, liver or lungs.
What you should know:
In most cases, chemo is administered intravenously in a procedure known as an infusion. Sometimes chemo is taken as a pill, a liquid or by injection. It’s important to stay on the chemo schedule. If you skip a treatment, cancer cells could regrow. Also, strong chemo can reduce the number of infection-fighting white blood cells called neutrophils in your body, making you vulnerable to disease. Not only can infection interfere with your chemo schedule, it can also lead to life-threatening problems. Before you begin chemo, we will evaluate what steps you can take to boost your white blood cells. If necessary, we may prescribe a medication that increases levels of neutrophils.

May 2013