Breast cancer: other treatments
- Chemotherapy is often prescribed. This treatment attacks the body’s dividing cells, particularly cancerous ones. Until recently, it was administered only intravenously in hospitals. Some chemotherapy treatments are now available in tablet form, which the patient can take at home as a somewhat less complex alternative. The major drawback of chemotherapy is that it attacks both the cancerous cells and all other rapidly-dividing cells. A number of unpleasant side effects ensue, such as hair loss, nail and skin problems and so on.
Although chemotherapy is sometimes prescribed before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor before operating (this is known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy), it is often given after surgery, and may be combined with radiotherapy or a targeted therapy, for example.
Predictive tests now exist to determine whether or not to prescribe chemotherapy for women whose breast cancer is detected at an early stage. The aim is to avoid chemotherapy when it is not necessary.
- Hormone therapy is prescribed in almost three-quarters of breast-cancer cases. It helps to block the action of hormones on tumor cells that overexpress the hormone receptors (estrogen and progesterone). In most cases, this hormone therapy is administered as an adjuvant treatment, meaning after other treatments, such as surgery. Its aim is to limit the risk of recurrence. Hormone therapy is most frequently prescribed for a period of five years.
- Targeted therapies are a future option for treating a number of cancers, including breast cancer. The principle is to block the tumor’s development.
For example, Trastuzumab blocks the action of HER2 receptors, which are overexpressed on the surface of cancerous HER2+ cells. The process of division and development of cancerous cells is thus blocked. By definition, this treatment is therefore only effective in patients with an HER2+ tumor. Other targeted therapies already exist, and researchers are working on several other options.