How to choose the best treatment for breast cancer

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, you have a lot on your mind. Decisions need to be made.

What treatment is best for you isn’t always clear at first. Every breast cancer case is different. Cancer is detected at various stages and each woman has a unique set of medical conditions that must be considered.

Your doctor will make recommendations. However it’s important to remember - you’re the one who has to feel good about the treatment path you choose.

According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. It’s the most common cancer diagnosed among women in the United States.

Educate yourself about various treatment options

In addition to the American Cancer Society in Texas, the National Breast Cancer Foundation is also a great resource for learning about treatment options for breast cancer. Consider joining a local support group to help you through recovery.

Breast cancer treatment may include a combination of surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, chemotherapy or a number of targeted therapies, such as biologic medications that attack specific types of cancer cells.

Certain factors will likely affect your treatment options

When considering a lumpectomy - removing only the cancer and a margin of surrounding tissue - versus having a mastectomy - removing most of the breast, your doctor will advise which one may give you a better outcome. If you opt for a total mastectomy, you can make the decision about breast reconstruction either immediately or at a later time.

The stage of your breast cancer has a significant effect on your options.

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, the following factors affect treatment decisions:

  • The size of your tumor in relationship to your breast size
  • The location of your tumor within the breast
  • If multiple tumors are found within the breast, then mastectomy is recommended
  • If you carry a breast cancer gene
  • Your concerns about surgery changing your breast appearance
  • If you’re a good candidate for radiation therapy
  • Your ability to travel to a radiation treatment facility
  • Your age and overall health

“Despite what some people believe, with today’s supplemental therapies, women who choose a lumpectomy live just as long as women who have a mastectomy,” said Dr. Maryam Elmi a UT Health San Antonio surgical oncologist who provides surgical management services at University Hospital.

She explained, “Every situation is different depending on the location and type of cancer involved. We use every viable treatment option available to help restore our patients and help them get back to living a normal life as quickly as possible.”

When it comes to making treatment decisions, Dr. Elmi recommends women with breast cancer follow these steps:

  • Ask to see pictures of a mastectomy versus a lumpectomy to help you fully understand what it will look like
  • Be completely honest; discuss what combination of treatments you’re comfortable with
  • Before making a final decision, clearly understand all your treatment options, the expected results for each one and their side effects
  • When feasible, ask a family member or friend to accompany you to your clinic appointment

Side effects of treatment – tell your doctor what’s going on

Once you move forward and start treatment, you’ll likely experience some side effects. A high percentage of women experience pain and skin irritation at some point throughout the treatment process. Depending on the type and length of treatment, patients may experience vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, swelling in their arm, joint pain or other symptoms.

“It’s important for you to speak up when you’re in discomfort. Let your doctor know what’s happening right away. We’re able to minimize and treat a number of side effects.

We want to give you the best outcome and at the same time provide the highest level of care and comfort possible,” Dr. Elmi said.

University Health provides a number of advanced breast cancer treatments in San Antonio, as well as clinical trials. Look at all your options and choose what’s best for you and your family.

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