With recent advances in breast cancer treatment, doctors are often able to reduce the amount and intensity of treatment women receive, while maintaining equally good cancer outcomes, according to Sunny Mitchell, MD, Medical Director of The Breast Center at Montefiore Nyack Hospital. “Thanks to advances in research, we are able to offer more personalized treatment approaches that target each woman’s individual breast tumor,” she said.
Today, many early-stage breast cancer patients are able to have less invasive surgery than in years past. Genetic testing on tumors often can help doctors determine which type of chemotherapy will be most effective. And in some cases, they are able to tell women they don’t need chemotherapy at all, because their tumor type won’t benefit.
Women undergoing breast cancer surgery today can be treated with advanced techniques that remove the cancer while preserving the physical appearance of the breast and hiding surgical scars. “We remove the cancer and leave the breast with a nice shape, size and contour,” Dr. Mitchell said. “It’s much more aesthetically pleasing to the patient. When she looks in the mirror, she’s not constantly reminded about her surgery.”
She treats many of her patients with the “Hidden Scar” approach. “We place the incision in a location that is most likely to heal very well and hardly be visible once healed, such as around the areola, under the breast or in the armpit,” she said.
Medication and Radiation
There are a number of types of breast cancer medications, including chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy.
Breast cancer treatment today sometimes starts with medication before surgery. This may be given to try to shrink the tumor so it can be removed with less extensive surgery. And by giving medication before the tumor is removed, the doctor can see how the cancer responds to it.
Breast cancer tumors may undergo additional testing to help guide treatment. “Through tumor testing, we may confirm somebody doesn’t need chemotherapy, or would benefit from a specific form of treatment,” Dr. Mitchell said.
Radiation therapy is often an integral part of breast cancer treatment.
Other Offerings at The Breast Center
The Breast Center at Montefiore Nyack Hospital offers women many services, including genetic counseling and testing, patient navigation and help from a social worker, and nutrition consultation with a dietician.
“We also offer nutrition consults with our dietitians,” Dr. Mitchell said. “They can provide specific advice, such as how to adjust nutrition while going through chemo, or general guidance on how to eat healthier to keep your body healthier.”
Women undergoing treatment at Montefiore Nyack Hospital may also be eligible to participate in clinical trials.
It All Starts With Screening
Women who undergo breast screening that detects cancer early have the best chance for successful treatment, Dr. Mitchell said. “Breast cancer is very treatable when it’s detected at an early stage,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important for women to have annual breast screening—it saves lives.”
Women at average risk of breast cancer should start annual breast screening at age 40, Dr. Mitchell advises. You may be at average risk if you do not have a strong family history of breast cancer (a parent, sibling or child who has had the disease), you or your family members do not have one of the breast cancer genes (i.e. BRCA1 or 2), and you have not had a prior biopsy with high-risk findings.
“Some women, such as those with a family history of breast cancer, or other risk factors, may be advised to start screening earlier than age 40,” Dr. Mitchell said.
If a woman is found to have dense breasts on her mammogram, her doctor may also recommend ultrasound screening, which uses sound waves, or an MRI to provide additional information.