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How Is Breast Cancer Treated?

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 16 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Breast Cancer treating Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is generally treated according to three main variables: the type of breast cancer present, the stage of the breast cancer and the grade of breast cancer. With these in mind, common breast cancer treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and/or hormone therapy.

Types of Breast Cancer

The most common forms of breast cancer begin in the parts of the breast related to lactation, or milk production. Ductal carcinoma begins in the milk ducts while lobular carcinoma begins in the glands that produce milk. Regardless of the point of origin, both forms can be either in situ (non-invasive) or invasive. The most common form of breast cancer is invasive ductal carcinoma followed by invasive lobular breast cancer. There are also some rarer forms of breast cancer such as inflammatory breast cancer, Paget's Disease, medullary breast cancer, lymphoma of the breast, basal type breast cancer and tubular breast cancer. Men as well as women can develop breast cancer, though women between the ages of 50 and 70 are generally thought to be at the highest risk.

Stage of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is divided into stages depending upon the advancement of the disease due to factors such as tumour size, whether the lymph nodes are involved, and whether the cancer has spread to other areas. There are two common systems of stage classification: TNM staging and numbered staging. TNM staging is used around the world to assess tumour size (T), node involvement (N) and presence of metastases (M) - that is, whether or not the tumour has spread to another area of the body. A number staging system is also in use for breast cancer. Whether the cancer is determined to be stage 1, stage 2, stage 3 or stage 4 depends upon a mix of the size of the tumour, lymph node involvement and metastases. These stages also have sub-stages depending upon the combination of symptoms.

Grade of Breast Cancer

Regardless of the type of breast cancer present or the stage at which it is determined to be, the grade of breast cancer is determined by how the cancer cells look under a microscope. There are three main grades of breast cancer: low grade/grade 1, intermediate grade/grade 2 and high grade/grade 3. These grades help determine how fast the breast cancer grows and how likely it may be to come back. Low grade/grade 1 breast cancer grows the most slowly while high grade/grade 3 breast cancer has the highest risk of coming back.

Common Treatment Options

After the type, stage and grade of breast cancer are diagnosed, a treatment plan will be drawn up specifically for each breast cancer patient. Common treatment options include surgery, such as a mastectomy (breast removal) or lumpectomy (removal of the cancerous tissue), chemotherapy (the use of drugs to kill cancer cells), radiotherapy (the use of radiation to kill cancer cells), and/or hormone therapy (the use of drugs that block naturally occurring hormones such as oestrogen and/or progesterone to block the growth of cancer cells).

How breast cancer is treated depends upon the type of breast cancer, the stage of breast cancer and the grade of breast cancer present. Common treatment options for breast cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and/or hormone therapy.

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