Why Doctors Are Rethinking Early-Stage Breast Cancer Treatment

By MedStar Health

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Most women with early-stage breast cancer discover the disease only after screening with a mammogram. Symptoms may not present in a dramatic or noticeable way, so women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer are understandably shocked and unprepared as they begin their cancer journey.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, it would be rational and reasonable to jump to quick conclusions, some dire. But keep in mind that doctors are rethinking early-stage breast cancer treatment.

You or your loved one might benefit from recent research that allows doctors to prescribe treatment options that are more targeted, more focused and more effective than ever before.

The Three Types of Breast Cancer

Current research shows that breast cancer usually falls into one of three categories:

  • Endocrine receptor-positive, wherein estrogen or progesterone receptors play a role;
  • HER2-positive, wherein human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 plays a role; or
  • Triple negative, wherein none of the above are involved.

This discovery allows doctors to identify the exact factors at play in your cancer diagnosis, thereby narrowing down appropriate treatments options to the most efficient and effective. Over-treating breast cancer can cause significant side effects for some women.

As much as doctors want to avoid a passive treatment regimen that doesn’t target or kill cancer, they also strive to eschew unnecessary treatments that might lead to other health problems. The ability to identify which type of cancer you have ensures that your treatment is balanced and purposeful.

Chemotherapy Isn't Always Useful

In the past, it was typical for doctors to surgically remove breast cancer tumors and to employ chemotherapy as a method for treating breast cancer, including early stage forms. Contemporary research indicates that chemotherapy doesn't always play a decisive role in early stage breast cancer treatment or in the prevention of recurrence.

Because research has proven that chemotherapy might not always be the best approach, cancer specialists might be less likely to use it as a treatment option except for when absolutely necessary. This discovery means that many women might be able to avoid the unwanted side effects of chemotherapy, including:

  • Heart problems
  • Osteoporosis
  • Anemia
  • Vomiting
  • Memory loss
  • Fatigue

No one wants to go through chemotherapy unless the treatment is essential. Doctors understand this, and they now have the information they need to make better decisions regarding your treatment.

If you have tiny tumors that are difficult to remove surgically, or if you have conditions that make it likely for tumors to return in the future, you may need chemotherapy. The side effects of this treatment plan will make life difficult for a while, but your cancer specialist should be able to prescribe a focused regimen that works specifically for your unique needs.

Final Thought

Your diagnosis of early stage breast cancer will be emotionally daunting and physically exhausting. However, you can find some reassurance in the fact that doctors know more today than ever before about identifying and treating breast cancer.

That way your recovery can happen with as few side effects and treatments as possible.