FACTS ABOUT BREAST CANCER
At Anchorage Radiation Oncology Center, we provide our patients with exceptional radiation oncology care in Anchorage, AK. We understand that being diagnosed with cancer will change a person’s life, which is why we strive to provide not only advanced treatment but also unwavering support.
Radiation therapy can be used to treat breast cancer, one of the most common types of cancers in women. Because many individuals may be affected by this disease in their lifetime, addressing questions and concerns about breast cancer is more important than ever.
BREAST CANCER STATISTICS
Some of the most eye-opening facts about breast cancer include:
• The most common cancer for women is breast cancer. In the course of a year, about 250,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
• Additionally, one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
• Breast cancer may be typically associated with women, but men can develop this disease as well. Every year, about 2,600 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
• Thankfully, breast cancer is often cured. About 83 percent of patients who are diagnosed with breast cancer will still be alive over ten years after their diagnosis.
• Currently, around 2.8 million breast cancer survivors are living in the United States.
SIGNS OF BREAST CANCER
The most apparent sign that breast cancer has developed is when a lump is found in one of the breasts. Lumps can vary in size, shape, and type: they can be large or small, soft or hard, and painless or painful. Besides finding a lump in one of the breasts, there are several other signs of possible breast cancer. These can include:
• A change in the skin texture of the breast
• A change in the shape or size of the breast
• Any kind of pain in the nipple or breast
• Tenderness of the nipples
• Clear or bloody discharge from the nipples
If you happen to notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a physician as soon as possible. Breast cancer is a highly-curable disease provided that it’s detected and treated swiftly.
TREATING BREAST CANCER
Breast cancer treatment will vary depending on:
• Your specific breast cancer (ie the biology and location of the tumor)
• The stage of breast cancer
• Your personal preferences
• Your age, overall physical health, and other pertinent medical information
The most common treatment is surgery, which could require partial removal of the cancerous breast tissue (lumpectomy) or complete removal of the breast (mastectomy). Typically, radiation therapy follows a lumpectomy.
TYPES OF RADIATION THERAPY
Whole Breast External Beam Radiation Therapy After Lumpectomy
After a lumpectomy, the usual course of radiation treats the whole breast and, if needed, nearby lymph node areas. The radiation beam comes from a linear accelerator, or “linac”, to destroy undetectable cancer cells and usually begins around three to four weeks after surgery. The full course of treatment is usually delivered over three to seven weeks, depending on findings during surgery.
Before beginning treatment, you will be scheduled for a planning session or “simulation” to map out the area of treatment. It involves having X-rays and/or a CT scan. A radiation therapist will also create tiny tattoo-like marks on your skin to precisely position you for daily treatment.
Accelerated Partial Breast Irradiation After Lumpectomy (APBI)
The long-term results of APBI appear promising, as ongoing research suggests that it may be safe to only give radiation treatment to the part of the breast that had the tumor.
There are two different approaches to APBI:
1. Breast brachytherapy involves placing flexible plastic tubes called catheters, or a balloon, directly into the cavity where the lump was taken out. A small, radioactive seed is guided into the catheters or balloon and is left in place for several minutes based on the treatment plan designed by the radiation oncologist. The procedure is repeated twice daily for a period of five days, then the catheters or balloon are removed and the treatment is finished.
2. External beam radiation with 3-D CRT is delivered in a similar way to standard whole breast radiation using a linear accelerator. However, it is more focused on the area around the surgery. Treatment occurs twice daily over a one week period.
Chest Wall Radiation After Mastectomy
After a mastectomy, your doctor may suggest radiation therapy for the chest wall and nearby lymph node areas. Post-mastectomy radiation depends on a variety of factors, so consult with your surgeon and radiation oncologist beforehand.
BENEFITS OF RADIATION THERAPY
Radiation therapy works by utilizing high-energy rays in order to destroy cancer cells. This treatment is beneficial because it will both reduce the risk of the tumor returning and increase the likelihood that a patient survives the battle with cancer. Undergoing radiation therapy is a breast cancer treatment that’s very tolerable. Any side effects that a patient experiences will be minimal and temporary.
If you have any additional questions about breast cancer, we’re always here to help. Please feel free to contact us if there’s any way that we can be of service.
POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS
Side effects are usually temporary and usually go away shortly after treatment ends. Ask your doctor what you can expect from your specific treatment. Tell us if you experience any discomfort so we can help you feel better.
CARING FOR YOURSELF DURING TREATMENT
• Get plenty of rest during treatment, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
• Follow your doctor’s advice. Ask if you are unsure about anything.
• There are no stupid questions.
• Tell your doctor about any medications, vitamins or supplements you are taking to make sure they are safe to use during radiation therapy.
• Eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids. If food tastes funny or if you’re having trouble eating, tell your doctor, nurse or dietitian.
• Treat the skin exposed to radiation with special care. Stay out of the sun, avoid hot or cold packs, only use lotions and ointments after checking with your doctor or nurse and clean the area with warm water and mild soap.
Coping with the stress of a cancer diagnosis can be tough. It may help to seek out help from support groups and friends.
BREAST CANCER RESOURCES
Imaginis: The Breast Cancer Resource
Living Beyond Breast Cancer
National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.
Also see Helpful Links
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