Surgery to remove all or part of your breast as part of breast cancer treatment can have an impact on your sense of self, your body image, and your sexuality.
Some women find they cope better with these issues after breast reconstruction surgery. This involves the surgical reconstruction of the breast tissue to create a body shape similar to your pre-surgery shape. However, a reconstructed breast will never look or feel the same as your own breast.
Complementary therapies are techniques that may help you to cope with breast cancer treatment and manage the psychological, social and physical burdens treatment can entail.
Complementary therapies should not be used as a replacement or alternative to conventional and scientifically proven medicine.
Many breast cancers respond to hormones present in the body, such as oestrogen and progesterone.
If a cancer is oestrogen receptor positive then it grows faster when oestrogen is present. If a cancer is progesterone receptor positive, then it grows faster when progesterone is present.
Endocrine therapy (sometimes known as hormone therapy) works by blocking the effects of these hormones so that they are unable to stimulate the cancer cells to grow.
Your pathology report will tell you whether your breast cancer is responsive to oestrogen or progesterone or both. If your breast cancer is hormone receptor positive you may benefit from endocrine therapy.
Like chemotherapy, targeted therapies are drug therapies, but they are often given over a longer period of time.
These medicines are different from most chemotherapy drugs because they attack specific elements of the cancer cells and are less likely to harm normal cells.
There are five targeted therapy drugs publicly funded in New Zealand (see below).
Many targeted therapy drugs are given intravenously and you may have a special device called a port-a-cath inserted into your chest wall or a PICC line in your arm to help medical staff give these drugs easily on a regular basis. This will save a nurse having to find a vein in your arm or hand each time you need treatment.
Chemotherapy involves the use of special drugs to attack and kill breast cancer cells.
For women with early breast cancer, chemotherapy can prevent breast cancer from recurring by killing any remaining cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of the body at the time of surgery.
For women with advanced breast cancer, chemotherapy can destroy much of the cancer reducing tumour size and symptoms.
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Radiation therapy uses radiation to destroy cancer cells in the body. In many cases it can significantly reduce the risk of cancer recurring.
It is routinely used as a follow up treatment after a partial mastectomy (lumpectomy or wide local excision) and sometimes after a full mastectomy to help kill any cancer cells that may still be present in the surgery area.
Most treatment for breast cancer involves surgery. The aim of surgery is to remove the cancer cells from your breast. The kind of surgery you have will depend on your breast cancer.
Every woman is different and every woman’s treatment plan will be different. Discuss all your options with your surgeon carefully and don’t feel pressured to make a quick decision. Ask your surgeon to explain the advantages and disadvantages of all the options available to you.
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Not all breast cancers are the same and determining what kind of breast cancer you have will help your medical team to decide what is the most suitable and effective treatment for you. Most treatment for breast cancer involves surgery. During surgery breast tissue is removed and will then be examined by a pathologist who will provide information on the kind of breast cancer you have.
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If you’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer, you may be feeling a whole lot of things all at once - fear, sorrow, anger, anxiety. It’s normal to feel these emotions and to feel uncertain and scared.
Information can help to reduce your fear of the unknown, but it takes time to absorb. So take some time to review the medical information you’ve been given. Catch your breath, let those emotions work themselves out so that you can take charge, review treatment options and make the decisions that are right for you.
Screening tests such as mammograms or ultrasound can only lead doctors to suspect breast cancer.
To determine if cancer is actually present a doctor will need to take a biopsy of the breast tissue and then examine this tissue under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present.