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The good news about triple negative breast cancer is that it's treatable and much easier to beat than many people think. That's due to a new wave of medicines which target the immune system to help it attack cancer cells more effectively.
But the effectiveness of treatments depends on the size and spread of your tumor as well as its stage when diagnosed. Survival rates provide an estimate of how long you might live if your cancer responds to treatment.
Chemotherapy is the go-to treatment for many breast cancers, including triple negative ones. It works by killing cancer cells and stopping them from growing or spreading, which may help you live a longer life.
Your cancer doctor will determine the most appropriate chemotherapy treatment plan. It may consist of either one drug or a combination that works together in different ways to attack cancer. You will receive chemotherapy treatments in cycles, with rest periods between each one so that your body has time to regenerate healthy cells before beginning another cycle.
To determine how well your chemotherapy is working, you will have a variety of tests done. These may include blood tests and x-rays or other imaging procedures to detect how far the cancer has spread.
When beginning chemotherapy, your doctor will provide you with medications to make the experience more bearable and reduce side effects. These may come in pill form, an injection or as a cream that you apply directly onto your skin.
If you need a lot of chemotherapy, a port may be an option. This tube lies beneath your skin and connects to a pump that regulates how much drug administration occurs.
Chemo drugs may also enter a special part of your body called the peritoneum cavity, where organs like liver, intestines and stomach reside. This is done either during surgery or through a special port in your arm.
Your doctors may suggest other treatments in addition to chemotherapy, such as radiation therapy or immune-system drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors. These medicines help your immune system suppress tumor growth by blocking PD-L1 protein found in approximately 20% of triple-negative breast cancers.
If your doctor thinks you have a higher than usual chance of developing breast cancer, they may suggest alternative forms of chemotherapy such as platinum chemotherapy drugs or PARP inhibitors. These medicines have similar effects to platinum drugs but target cancer cells with BRCA mutations.
Fortunately, triple negative breast cancer can often be managed. According to Bonnie Sun M.D., a surgeon specializing in this type of cancer treatment, there are newer medicines and medical trials being tested that may destroy tumor cells when present.
Radiation may or may not be used, depending on your stage and other factors like genetic mutations that increase your chances for triple negative breast cancer. Usually, radiation is part of a comprehensive treatment plan that may also include surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy components.
Radiation therapy does not immediately kill cancer cells, but it damages their DNA. This causes them to die slowly over weeks or months after treatment ends, decreasing the likelihood that cancer will return.
Radiation therapy can also help shrink cancer and make surgery a little easier. If your doctor recommends radiation as a treatment option, expect to undergo four or five sessions of radiation therapy per week for about six weeks.
Be mindful of the radiation dose you receive, as too much can have serious side effects. Your doctor will discuss all available treatments with you, such as which type is suitable and potential risks.
If you are a good candidate for radiation, your doctor will use a machine that directs beams of high-energy radiation directly at the tumor. The machine moves around your body to deliver these high-energy beams of radiation directly onto the area where the tumor is situated.
Your doctor will then monitor the tumor to assess how well the radiation is working and if there are any issues. If there are, they may adjust the dosage or suggest other cancer treatments.
Chemotherapy can be effective for triple negative breast cancer, particularly when the tumor is small or has spread to nearby lymph nodes. While chemotherapy may shrink the tumor and reduce its likelihood of returning, there are also numerous potential side effects to consider.
Immunotherapy harnesses the body's own natural ability to fight cancer, and can prevent, control and even eliminate certain types of tumors. Furthermore, immunotherapy helps keep cancer from returning after treatment is complete.
Immunotherapy may be administered in cycles, meaning a period of treatment followed by rest to allow your immune system to recuperate and build new healthy cells. These cycles can last anywhere from weeks or months depending on the type of therapy being utilized.
Immunotherapy works by stimulating your immune system with drugs called cytokines. Cytokines are proteins produced naturally during natural infections that instruct the immune system to recognize and attack certain types of cells.
Your immune system can be strengthened with certain drugs, known as immune checkpoint inhibitors. These medicines disrupt the normal "checkpoints" that cause your immune system to become overactive and target healthy cells instead of cancerous ones.
Researchers are exploring ways to make immunotherapy drugs stronger and more effective, in hopes of treating cancers which would otherwise be impossible or ineffective to treat with other treatments.
Breast cancer patients are currently testing various kinds of immunotherapy. Some of them aim to stimulate your body's immune response by adding a special protein or substance into your blood stream that allows your immune system to attack the tumor.
Other immunotherapy treatments aim to alter the genes in your white blood cells, so they become capable of recognizing and eliminating cancer cells - this is known as T-cell transfer therapy.
Another form of immunotherapy is cancer vaccines. These vaccines are crafted to look like proteins found on the surface of cancer cells and administered as a shot directly into a vein.
Immunotherapy works similarly to vaccines against viruses, sending your immune system a signal to fight cancer cells. They also enhance this response by increasing levels of specific cytokines such as interferon and interleukin in your body.
The good news is that researchers have made remarkable progress in this area over the last decade, leading to significant advances in cancer immunotherapy - an area of research with great promise for many people.
Surgery is a primary treatment option for many types of cancer. It may be used alone or combined with other therapies to manage symptoms like pain and swelling. Surgery, however, may not be suitable for all cancers - such as those of the blood or lymphatic system that cannot be removed through surgery.
Your doctor's opinion and the stage of your cancer will determine which surgery is appropriate for you. If it has spread elsewhere on the body, surgery may not be successful and other treatments such as chemotherapy, targeted cancer drugs or hormone therapy could be employed instead.
Another essential factor to consider when seeking treatment for cancer is your overall health and lifestyle. Being overweight, having poor eating habits or lacking physical activity will compromise the success of the procedure and how quickly you recover. You should ask your doctor what steps you can take to improve this area by quitting smoking or exercising regularly.
Regular check-ups with your primary care doctor, particularly, can be beneficial. Your physician is best equipped to detect any early warning signs of an issue so that you can receive appropriate treatment before it worsens.
Before your surgery, you will meet with a surgeon and nurses to go over what the procedure entails, how it's performed, any special instructions or precautions. You will also learn about medications necessary for recovery as well as any potential scarring that may result from it.
Before and after your surgery, it's wise to ask lots of questions. Your surgeon, anesthesiologist and nurses will be more than happy to answer them for you.
When selecting a surgeon, make sure you select someone reliable who will perform your surgery safely and precisely. A skilled doctor can make a significant difference in both the speed of recovery and the outcome of the operation.
When considering surgery, several factors must be taken into account: your general health; the location and size of the operation; and, most importantly, the experience level of your surgeon; both are equally important; as is how well-prepared you are for each type and degree of surgery you receive.