Guide to Treatment: Surgery, Chemo, Radiation, and Recurrence Prevention Drugs

Patient Expert

Breast cancer isn't so bad - it's the treatment that's tough

Many of us have had that thought as we've made our way through breast cancer treatment. Surgery, radiation, chemo, and long-term drugs all have their own challenges.

If you've chosen to treat your breast cancer, you can't avoid the rough spots. But knowing what to expect along the way - from deciding what treatment to have, to going through it, to dealing with the side effects (both immediate, and long-term) - is a big help.

Knowledge is power. It also diffuses fear. Arm yourself with information, and you'll be better able to handle those treatment challenges!

Let's begin with your medical team. Understand that you'll be dealing with some of your cancer doctors for a long time - perhaps the rest of your life. It's critical that you have personnel in place that you trust, and with whom you feel comfortable.

-Picking a Breast Cancer Doctor or Surgeon: Neighborhood Oncologist or Big Cancer Center?
-Too Close? Too Distant? Finding a Good Match With Your Doctors
-Working with an Oncologist - Advice from an Inflammatory Breast Cancer Survivor

Next comes one of the toughest parts of breast cancer: making treatment decisions. Here are some resources to help you make those tough choices.

-The Courage of Your Convictions: Having Tough Conversations
-Alternative Treatment: It's Your Decision, But What About the Kids?
-Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind? What to Do When You're Sitting on the Fence
-The Myth of the Good Attitude
-Comprehensive Cancer Centers: America's Top Treatment Facilities

Surgery is often the first step in treatment. Read up on mastectomy and lumpectomy, the two main surgeries for removing tumors.

-Lumpectomy vs. Mastectomy: Only You Can Choose
-Lumpectomy FAQS
-Mastectomy FAQS
-Having a Mastectomy? 10 Insider Tips
-More Women Opting for Double Mastectomies: Is It Justified?
-From Bras To Swimsuits: Dressing After Mastectomy

You're having a mastectomy; have you considered reconstruction? While you can usually opt to have reconstruction months or even years later, it's useful to understand what's involved, and the different types you might choose.

-Reconstruction Overview
-Reconstruction: Breast Forms/Prosthesis
-Reconstruction: Implants vs. Autologous/Body Tissue
-Reconstruction: Implants - Silicone vs. Saline
-Reconstruction: Autologous/Body Tissue (TRAM, LAT, etc.)

Once you've recovered from surgery, you might be advised to have radiation. If you've had a lumpectomy, you'll need radiation to your breast. If you've had a mastectomy, you might need radiation to the chest wall, or armpit. Here's what's involved:

-Radiation FAQS
-Radiation Side Effects
-MammoSite: A Survivor's Story

Your doctor is suggesting the possibility of chemotherapy, but it's not clear if it's an absolute must. You're very uncomfortable about having to make this decision: should you have chemo, or not?

-Chemotherapy: Is It Always the Best Choice?
-Decisions, Decisions" Oncotype DX Test May Help You Get Off the Fence

Many women choose to have chemotherapy, especially if cancer has spread outside the breast. The following five-part series takes you through the whole process: from getting ready, to how it's actually administered, to dealing with side effects.

-So You're Having Chemo" A Five-Part Series  

AC, FEC" Taxol/Taxotere? Here's a guide to the most common "chemo cocktails":

-Chemotherapy: The Most Common Chemo Drug Combinations and Their Side Effects

The toughest part of chemo is its side effects. The post above details side effects for specific drug combinations; the posts below examine in greater detail side effects common to most types of chemo.

-Hair Loss: Be Prepared
-Chemotherapy Induced Neuropathy
-Chemo and Your Sex Life
-Chemo and Your Teeth

Some side effects linger well beyond the end of your infusions. The following posts suggest possible solutions for long-term sleep issues, neuropathy, and more.

-Can't Sleep? You've Come to the Right Place  
-Sleep Disorders: A Five-Part Series
-Treatment Side Effects: Can Acupuncture Help?
-Taxol Toes: Coping with Peripheral Neuropathy

If your cancer is hormone-sensitive; or HER2-neu positive, you're facing at least a year of drugs; and possibly 10 years or more of a daily, weekly, or monthly pill or infusion. Read up on your particular therapy:

-Aromatase Inhibitors (Arimidex, Aromasin, and Femara)
-Evista
-Herceptin
-Tykerb
-Tamoxifen and Fareston
-Tamoxifen: Does it Work for You?
-Tamoxifen, Breast Cancer, and Depression: A Dangerous Trio
-Zoladex and Lupron

Lymphedema, a painful (and potentially dangerous) swelling of the arm and chest, can develop immediately after breast cancer treatment - or years later.

-Lymphedema: an Under-Recognized Threat
-Introduction to Lymphedema
-How Do I Know If I Have Lymphedema?
-Lymphedema Prevention
-Lymphedema Treatment

Breast cancer treatment can be VERY expensive. If you're struggling with lack of health insurance, or other financial issues around treatment, the following resources will help.

-Breast Cancer Treatment: the Financial Burden
-Financial Resources for Breast Cancer Patients
-No Health Insurance? Breast Cancer Screening and Treatment on a Budget

Finally, working so hard to heal your body can take a terrible toll on your mind and soul. Read up on some of our favorite coping strategies for keeping your emotional life in balance.

-Family & Friends: 10 Ways They Can REALLY Help
-Coming Back to Life: Exercise During Treatment
-Facing Chemo? 10 Things You Can Do Right Now to Cheer Yourself Up
-Losing Your Modesty, Keeping Your Self-Respect
-Dealing With Cancer: Meditation and Massage