Health Watch -- Treating Breast Cancer

Health Watch is a Public Service of the  Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Breast cancer treatment may be less invasive than you think.

When women think about breast cancer treatment, their most feared scenario is disfiguring surgery followed by chemotherapy that makes them lose their hair. But that isn’t necessarily the standard treatment program.

Dr. Phil Evans, director of the Center for Breast Care at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, says that the earlier cancer is detected, the less treatment is required. For a small cancer that is self-contained and hasn’t spread, treatment may be as simple as surgery just to remove the lump itself.

Most breast cancers treated by lumpectomy require radiation therapy to the breast and surgery to include a biopsy of lymph nodes to determine whether the cancer has spread. If the lymph nodes are involved, an aggressive cancer might require chemotherapy. The larger the cancer, the more breast tissue that has to be removed.

The drugs used to fight breast cancer are improving all the time, but the improvements tend to be gradual rather than dramatic leaps. Researchers are constantly working to develop new cancer treatments that will be incrementally better than the ones that came before and that will have fewer side effects. There’s still no one guaranteed cure for breast cancer, but improved medication and early detection make survival rates better than ever. That’s why having regular mammograms is so important.