There are many types of benign breast conditions and types of breast cancer. The Comprehensive Breast Program offers a range of treatments. You and your doctor will discuss the best course of treatment for your condition, what you can expect for results, and what you may experience as side effects.
Your physician or nurse practitioner will discuss therapy for any benign breast condition you may have. This may involve observation, surgery, antibiotics or reassurance.
Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs given intravenously to kill cancer cells that may be in your blood stream. Chemotherapy is sometimes used after surgery to reduce the chance of cancer returning in organs other than your breast. Our medical oncologists will meet with you to discuss your treatment options and potential side effects. The medical oncologist will follow you and your progress throughout treatment. Whenever possible, we coordinate treatment through outreach centers closest to your home so you can minimize your travel during therapy.
Some types of breast cancer are fed by hormones in your body. Hormone therapy is a pill or injection which reduces estrogen levels in the body or blocks the action of estrogen on breast cancer cells. This is a common therapy (used after surgery and sometimes after chemotherapy) that significantly reduces the chance of breast cancer recurrence. Your medical oncologist will consider the need for hormone therapy based on the analysis of your tumor cells.
Lymph node evaluation
The presence of cancer in the lymph nodes is associated with a higher risk of having cancer cells in other parts of your body. To determine the extent of cancer, your surgeon may remove one of more lymph nodes at the time of surgery. If there is cancer in your lymph nodes you may have an axillary dissection. This removes on average 12-16 nodes from the armpit. If there is no evidence of cancer in your lymph nodes prior to surgery, you may have a sentinel lymph node biopsy. This uses a special labeling substance injected into the breast prior to surgery to help identify at-risk nodes. During your appointment, your surgeon will discuss with you whether lymph nodes should be evaluated and the best evaluation method for your particular situation.
Some patients may experience limited arm or shoulder mobility after treatment. In these instances postoperative exercises can help recover shoulder mobility and a return to normal activities. Physical therapy might also be recommended to treat persistent pain or postoperative swelling of the breast, arm or trunk. Your care team will work with you to find rehabilitation services close to home, either with Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center departments or our partners.
Related: Learn more about our approach to treating Lymphedema (a swelling condition which can occur in patients who have had breast cancer surgery)
Radiation therapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells. It can be effective in destroying the DNA of the cancer cells and preventing the return of cancer. Many women with breast cancer will receive a recommendation to undergo radiation therapy following breast surgery. Our radiation oncologists are experienced in advanced radiation treatments for breast cancer and will plan your treatment schedule and follow your progress. Radiation is typically given once a day (5 days a week) for 4-6 weeks.
Many women with breast cancer will undergo breast surgery. Mastectomy (removal of the whole breast or a portion of it), partial mastectomy/lumpectomy (removal of the tumor along with some breast tissue), lymph node surgery (removal of one or more lymph nodes), or breast reconstruction are procedures your doctor will discuss with you based on your diagnosis. Many women undergoing breast surgery have choices to make. Our surgeons will work with you to help you make the best decision for yourself.