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Breast Cancer



Understanding and Prevent Breast Cancer

5. Surgery

Most breast cancers are treated with an operation, aren’t they?

Most people with breast cancer will be offered surgery as the first treatment. The aim is to remove the cancer completely from the breast. Broadly speaking, there are two main types of breast cancer operations, breast conserving surgery and mastectomy. With breast conserving surgery the cancer and a small area of tissue around it (called a margin) is removed. Depending on where the cancer is, and how big it is, this might mean a lumpectomy or the removal of a wider portion of tissue (called a wide local excision) where up to a quarter of the breast may be removed. A mastectomy means all the breast is removed including the nipple.


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6. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill abnormal cells. In breast cancer, the aim is to use these drugs to poison cells (called cytotoxic drugs) and to destroy any cancer cells that may have spread from the breast to other parts of the body. These cells may not show up in scans or tests, but if you have a type of breast cancer that makes this kind of spread more likely, you could have chemotherapy to make sure your whole body is exposed to these anti-cancer drugs without waiting to see whether or not this will happen in the future.


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7. Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy is the use of high-energy X-rays, in this case to destroy any cancer cells that may have been left behind in the breast area after surgery.

Radiotherapy also reaches normal cells which are in the treatment area. All cells are more vulnerable to damage when they are dividing.

Cancer cells divide more rapidly than normal cells so will be damaged or killed at a greater rate than the normal cells in the treatment area.


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8. Hormone (Endocrine) Therapy

Hormones are like messengers: along with the system of nerves, they regulate everything our bodies automatically do. Hormones are made in endocrine glands (such as the thyroid and adrenal glands) and they work by attaching to receptors on target cells. There are many hormones, including oestrogen and progesterone which control a woman’s menstrual cycle, for example.

Hormone therapy is a drug treatment which aims to prevent the hormone oestrogen from stimulating the breast cancer to grow. This kind of treatment is sometimes called endocrine therapy.


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9. Targeted Therapy

This is a more recent type of therapy which has only been used widely over the last few years. The drugs work by blocking the different ways that breast cancer cells grow and develop. They are different to chemotherapy and hormone therapies. Herceptin® (trastuzumab) is the most well-known targeted therapy.


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