Breast cancer treatment varies depending on a patient’s cancer stage and condition. Breast cancer surgery may be used alone or alongside treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy or hormonal therapy.
According to Consultant Breast Surgeon Dr. Melanie Seah from Melanie Seah Breast Specialist at Farrer Park Hospital, there is no “one size fits all” treatment for breast cancer patients. Treatments varies from one patient to another, depending on their condition and cancer stage.
Treatments to Expect
When asked if surgery is necessary for breast cancer patients, Dr. Seah said: “Breast surgery forms part and parcel of treatment. It may not be the first treatment patients undergo but at some point in time, some form of surgery would be required to remove the cancer cells.”
During a breast surgery, a breast surgeon would either take out the whole breast or just the tumor. If only the latter is removed, patients would be expected to undergo radiation therapy.
Patients with an earlier form of breast cancer may not necessarily need chemotherapy. Sometimes radiation therapy would be sufficient. Other times, patients would also require hormonal therapy to treat, prevent disease recurrence or the formation of new breast cancers. This is what patients can expect in the earlier forms of the disease.
Chemotherapy comes into the picture at advanced stages when breast cancer patients present with a larger tumor with lymph nodes involved. The treatment sequence may vary too. It could start with chemotherapy and sometimes, with surgery.
“The first year (of treatment) would always be the longest and toughest for patients with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy lined up but things get a lot easier after. There is always light at the end of the tunnel,” Dr. Seah expressed.
Early Detection is Key
When breast cancer is detected at stage zero, cancer cells have no potential to spread. It can also be treated easily. At stage one, breast cancer cells are considered invasive and may spread to other organs.
Emphasizing the benefits of early detection, Dr. Seah said: “If you can catch it (cancer) early, it usually means the cancer is smaller; there’d be a bigger chance of conserving the breast.”
According to Dr. Seah, “smaller cancer” also means a smaller surgery; which translates to a faster recovery with ease of return to normal activities. Another silver lining is that there is a smaller chance of us needing intense treatments such as chemotherapy when detected early.
“When you’re living your life as usual without any pain, when you’re feeling fine, you don’t think about cancer. But the catch is that cancer is silent. Early cancer is something seen on mammograms or ultrasound. So you do want to have your regular imaging when you hit the screening age at 40.”
Breast Cancer Not a Death Sentence
Everyone worries about cancer’s threat to life. Many would shudder and think it is a death sentence but it is not. Most of the time, it is curable.
“All patients are worried but there are many others who remain strong and take charge of their health. Sometimes when the tumor is too extensive, we would advise a mastectomy over breast conservation. Most are willing to accept that in the face of cancer being a threat to life,” Dr. Seah revealed.
Being There for a Breast Cancer Patient
Every woman is different and would appreciate different support system.
Asked what she think is most important for breast cancer patients, Dr. Seah said: “I’ve come across patients whose spouses would relieve them of household chores such as cooking and housekeeping; giving them as much rest as possible.”
“It is important to be present during the medical appointment. with a breast cancer patient. Some would need their family and loved ones around to process their diagnosis and help decide on their treatment plans. Even when you don’t know what to say, it is important to be there,” Dr. Seah concluded.