Cancer is the second leading cause of death and cancer of the breast is the most common form. The overall rate of this cancer is 1 in every 8 women. That
statistic will change according to the woman’s age. Women at the age of 20 to 29 have a cancer rate of 1 in every 2,000 women. However, women in the age
group of 60 to 69 have a 1 in 26 chance of getting cancer in the breast.
Developing countries have a much higher rate of this cancer as opposed to undeveloped countries. One of the highest rates of breast cancer is in Sweden
with a rate of 148.1 cases per 100,000 individuals. The United States is not far behind with 142.1 cases per 100,000 individuals. It is feared that the
incidence of this type of cancer may increase by more than 20%. Even undeveloped countries are seeing an increase in the rate of cancer in the breast. Many
feel that this is a result of adapting a "Westernized" lifestyle.
Early detection of this cancer is the key to survival. Treatment usually consists of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, biological
therapy and clinical trials. Depending on the kind and stage of the cancer, the patient may receive a combination of treatments.
Surgery is a standard treatment. A lumpectomy is usually performed on smaller tumors. More invasive surgery is used in the case of advanced stages.
Radiation therapy is also standard treatment following surgery. The radiation attacks any abnormal cells that might have been missed.
Hormone therapy with tamoxifen following surgery may also help prevent cancer from developing in the same or opposite breast.
Biological therapy is a new approach with women that have an excess of a protein called HER2. HER2 causes the cancer to spread quickly. The drug Herceptin
has been approved to treat women with cancer that is HER2-positive. It prevents the protein from making the cancer grow and makes chemo more effective.
Clinical trials may be available to certain women. Many new therapies that are in use now may be recommended for the patient.
Chemotherapy can lower the risk of the cancer returning by attacking the cancer cells. Chemo is often used after surgery to lower the risk of the cancer
For cancer of the breast, chemo can be administered by either mouth or injection. Treatments are given daily, weekly, or every 2-4 weeks depending on your
Some of the most common chemo drugs used to treat malignancies in the breast include the following:
Anthracyclines which interfere with cell division and prevents them from multiplying. These drugs are beneficial to those women with HER2-type cancers.
Taxanes like paclitaxel and docetaxel are chemo agents that interfere with the cancer cell’s division.
Cyclophosphamide is a drug that retards the growth of cancer cells.
Vinorelbine is a medication that affects the growth of cancer cells and slows the spread throughout the body.
Additional chemo drugs include ixabepilone, eribulin, methotrexate, and lapatinib.
The use of chemotherapy has many advantages as well as disadvantages. Chemo proves to be very effective at destroying harmful cells and shrinking tumors.
This is especially valuable after surgery where any remaining cancer cells may still remain.
Another advantage of chemo is that it can be an outpatient procedure and does not usually require an overnight stay in the hospital.
The administration of chemo can be applied in a variety of ways including creams, pills and infusions. Additionally, if the chemo is being administered to
eliminate any remaining cancer cells after surgery, a small disc can be implanted at the end of the surgery.
There are disadvantages of chemo as well. Undergoing chemo will most likely lead to a variety of short-term side effects including hair loss, feeling tired
and dizzy, reduced blood counts, diarrhea and throwing up. These side effects usually diminish over time.
The long-term dangers and side effects are more daunting. Certain chemo drugs also affect normal cells. The drugs slow the growth of the cancerous cells
but they also suppress the immune system which can result in serious and sometimes fatal infections.
Infertility, damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys and decreased bone density can result from a chemo regimen. A small group of patients may be at risk of
Chemo can suppress the production of blood cells from the bone marrow. This reduces the ability of the body to fight infection, impairs the ability of
blood to clot, and reduces the ability of blood to carry oxygen. Anemia and increased bruising or bleeding may also occur.
Not all chemo drugs are alike and the side effects should be discussed with the physician so the patient can make an informed decision.
Even though there are risks to chemo, survival rate in breast cancer patients have increased from 50% to 90% in the past 45 years. Breast cancer deaths
have dropped about 20% since 1991 due to advances in chemo, cancer prevention techniques and early detection.