Breast cancer Awareness Month is held each October and is a time to celebrate the achievements of breast cancer treatments, advancements in diagnosis, and hope for the future. According to the Centers for Disease Control, breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women. With an increase in awareness of the issues associated with breast cancer, people are better informed of what their risk factors are, how they can reduce their level of risk, what symptoms they should look for, and what kinds of screening they should be getting. While breast cancer survival rates are improving, more work remains.
What is Cancer?
Cancer occurs when changes, or mutations, take place in the genes that regulate cellular growth and allow cells to divide and multiply at an uncontrolled rate. Breast cancer is a type of cancer that develops in breast cells. Often, uncontrolled cancer cells invade other tissue, like the lymph nodes under the arms. Once cancer enters the lymph nodes, it has access to move to other parts of the body.
Breast Cancer Treatment
Breast cancer is treated in many ways, depending on the kind of cancer and how far it has spread. Whether the cancer is invasive or noninvasive will determine what actions a doctor will take and what long-term care is recommended. Noninvasive breast cancer remains isolated in the milk ducts or lobules and invasive breast cancer means cancer has spread beyond those areas into the surrounding tissues like the lymph nodes. The most common treatments for breast cancer are surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy. In recent years, treatments and targeted therapies have come to an understanding that less is more. With more long-term studies, physicians are able to scale back treatments. For example, at one time, a woman might have been recommended a double mastectomy, but now a lumpectomy followed by radiation is just as effective. Additionally, women might not need their axillary lymph nodes removed. Radiation treatments have also improved. With new technology, oncologists can better plan therapy and avoid extraneous damage to other areas of the body, like the heart. The length of radiation treatments has also shortened, leading to patients with fewer side effects.
Not All Breast Cancer is the Same
Perhaps the most significant advancement in breast cancer treatment has been the discovery that not all breast cancer is the same. Breast cancer may be driven by estrogen or progesterone, others are fueled by HER2 protein. Triple-negative breast cancer is an aggressive form impacted by none of those factors. Understanding these distinctions has led to targeted therapies that better attack the mechanism triggering the cancer. Many patients in the earliest stages of the disease can avoid chemotherapy altogether. New tests can identify who is likely to benefit from chemotherapy and who can skip it. As scientists learn more about the types of breast cancer and their behavior, better treatments can be developed.
Improving Quality of Life For Survivors
The goal of breast cancer treatment is to help more women survive breast cancer (if not avoid it altogether). Because survival rates have improved, more attention can now be paid to the long-term impact of treatments. Instead of focusing on the five years after diagnosis, oncologists are looking at tailoring treatments to avoid long-term complications later in life. Therapies have gotten more specific and less toxic, giving patients fewer side effects and a better quality of life. In some cases, breast cancer has become more of a chronic disease.
Hope For the Future
While heredity can play a role in a breast cancer diagnosis, following a healthy lifestyle, getting regular screenings, and taking preventive measures can lower the risk of developing breast cancer. Hope for the future includes better-targeted therapy, better tests to detect breast cancer, and better ways to identify aggressive tumors. Additionally, finding better treatments for women with metastatic breast cancer is one of the top goals. Just as cancer treatment becomes more individualized, researchers are developing more ways to personalize breast cancer diagnosis, screening, treatment, and patient care.
PFSP Specialty Pharmacy provides patients and their physicians an exceptionally high standard of care with our growing team of specialized pharmacists and staff. Our dedicated team of pharmacists focus on improving adherence for patients and work to find an approach that works best for them. Bringing a fresh take on what a Specialty Pharmacy can and should be, we are committed to the care of our patients. We take pride in being an ethical resource within our community and strive each day to help our patients live enriching and full lives.