Breast Cancer Treatment

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Breast Cancer Treatment

Treatment of breast cancer may include one or more of the following:

Surgery: There are two types of surgeries to treat breast cancer.

  1. Breast-conserving surgery:  Removal of only the cancer-containing portion of the breast. This type of surgery is also known as quadrantectomy, partial mastectomy, lumpectomy, or segmental mastectomy.
  2. Mastectomy: Includes the removal of one or both breasts. Depending on the spread of cancer, some surrounding tissue may also be removed.

Radiotherapy: High-energy rays are used to destroy cancerous cells. Radiation can be given through an external beam or through brachytherapy, in which a radioactive implant is placed inside the body for a short time.

Chemotherapy: The use of drugs that either kill cancer cells or keep them from dividing.

Targeted therapy:  Use of drugs that specifically block the growth and spread of cancerous cells.

Hormonal therapy: Use of hormones to disrupt the body’s own hormone production, which may be causing cancer growth.

Immunotherapy: This method uses medicines to stimulate a person’s immune system, which then destroys the cancer cells more effectively. Treatment options are generally considered given the overall health of a person, the type and stage of cancer, and whether or not female patients have experienced menopause.

Treatment availability in the Caribbean.

Data suggests that chemotherapy is generally available in public hospitals of six Caribbean countries: Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago.

Radiotherapy services are available in seven Caribbean countries: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago.

Cancer surgery is available in six Caribbean countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago.

However, cancer treatments are available in some private hospitals in many Caribbean countries, such as Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad & Tobago.

Note: The information on the availability of treatment modalities in the public hospitals of the Caribbean region is time-sensitive, and may change with the introduction of new government programs and policies, and international collaborations.

Effects of cancer treatment

Cancer treatments often have side effects. Some appear during treatment, while others are experienced much later. Fatigue, headaches, dental cavities, infertility, sexual difficulty, pain and numbness, and blood clots are some long-term and late side effects of breast cancer treatment.

Follow-up care

Follow-up care after breast cancer treatment varies based on the type of treatment received and individual outcomes. Commonly, follow-up appointments may include physical examination, mammograms, blood tests, and pelvic exams.

Protective factors

Protective factors help prevent or reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.

  1. Reduced exposure to estrogen: Exposure to estrogen is natural, but preventive steps could be taken to reduce the level of exposure. Early pregnancy and breastfeeding help reduce exposure. Women who become pregnant before 20 years of age are less likely to develop breast cancer compared to women who have their first child after 35 years of age. Similarly, women who breastfeed their children are more protected against breast cancer compared to those who do not breastfeed.
  2. Mastectomy for risk reduction: Some women with a high risk of breast cancer choose to remove the breast even before signs of cancer are detected. This is a personal choice and requires intensive risk assessment and counselling regarding other protective methods.
  3. Ovarian ablation: Similar to mastectomy, some premenopausal women opt for ovarian ablation – treatments that would decrease the amount of estrogen in the body. This is possible through surgical ovary removal, radiation therapy, or drug therapy.
  4. Lifestyle changes: Regular exercise reduces the risk of cancer. This is especially true in the case of premenopausal women with a healthy weight. Women who have been through menopause should pay special attention to their weight. Excess weight or obesity results in more estrogen produced by the body, thereby increasing the risk of cancer.
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