Breast Cancer Therapies

Doctors at The George Washington University Hospital's Comprehensive Breast Center may employ the following therapies separately, or in combination with surgery, to treat breast cancer.

External Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is a common type of treatment that aims to kill any remaining cancer cells. It is often prescribed with lumpectomy, but may be used with mastectomy. Radiation therapy often lasts a number of weeks. It is administered by board-certified physicians and technologists with technologically advanced equipment. During the therapy, radiation is directed to the breast, chest wall, and or lymph nodes from a machine located outside of the body. To optimize treatment, the patient receives doses of daily radiation for a number of weeks. Radiation therapy generally is used post-operatively in order to kill any remaining cancer cells and to reduce the likelihood of future recurrence of the cancer.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy involves the administration of intravenous or oral drugs in order to obliterate cancer cells that are present in the body. Treatment generally lasts approximately four to six months and can include such side effects as nausea, hair loss, weight gain and general fatigue. In recent years, however, these side effects have been minimized due to the development of new medications and the ability to administer more precise doses of chemotherapy. Physicians and health care professionals will explain all aspects of chemotherapy. They will discuss how long you will need to undergo chemotherapy and how you might feel while undergoing chemotherapy. They also will discuss ways to minimize side effects. Additionally, support groups are available along with other resources to help patients through this period.

Hormonal Therapy

Hormonal therapy inhibits the ability of natural hormones in the body, such as estrogen and progesterone, to join with cancer cells and encourage their growth and multiplication. Hormone therapy can be administered to treat cancer in varying stages, from the earliest stages to after the cancer has metastasized. This treatment is generally administered in cases where the cancer cells test positive for estrogen and progesterone receptors. Consultation with your medical oncologist will determine if you will benefit from hormonal therapy. With hormonal therapy you will need to be followed carefully to minimize side effects. Hormone therapy may include a medication called tamoxifen.

Tamoxifen

Tamoxifen interferes with the activity of estrogen by slowing or stopping the growth of cancer cells already present in the body. Used after surgery, tamoxifen has been shown to help prevent the original breast cancer from returning. It has also been shown to decrease the risk of the development of new cancers in the other breast. Tamoxifen may also be used in women who are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer, but who do not have breast cancer, to effectively decrease their risk of developing the disease.

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