Since the 1970s, cancer rates have been on the rise in the United States. In 2016 the U.S. saw about 1.6 million new cases of cancer, which were fatal to about 600,000 of these patients. While there are many potential factors to this increase in cancer rates, such as population growth, higher life expectancy, and nutritional changes, it’s still difficult for researchers and medical professionals to pinpoint the exact reasons. Fortunately, despite the rising number of cancer cases, more and more are being prevented and effectively treated than ever before. This is all thanks to technological breakthroughs of the past couple decades.
Since cancer attacks healthy cells in the body, there are several types of cancer, each one different based on which part of the body is under attack. One of the most common types of cancer in the U.S. is breast cancer. Breast cancer affects both men and women, though it is 100 times more common in women than men. This is because women tend to have more breast tissue than men do and a woman’s breast cells undergo more hormonal changes due to estrogen levels.
Types of Breast Cancer Treatment
If breast cancer is detected early enough, it can be effectively treated in a few different ways. The best way to detect breast cancer is via mammogram, a procedure that involves taking x-ray images of the breasts to help identify any tumors. In recent years 3D mammogram technology has developed, allowing for even better and more accurate images of the breasts. Once breast cancer is detected and diagnosed, there are a number of options for breast cancer treatment.
1) Surgery for Breast Cancer
In earlier stages of breast cancer, surgery can be performed to remove cancerous lesions within the breast tissue. The two major methods of breast cancer surgery are known as breast-conserving surgery and mastectomy. Breast-conserving surgery aims to remove only the cancer and some surrounding tissue, leaving the rest of the breast untouched. Depending on the size and location of the cancer, more or less of the breast tissue may need to be removed.
In a mastectomy, the entire breast that carries cancer is removed. If cancer is present in both breasts, a double mastectomy may be performed. Mastectomies are typically advised for patients with more aggressive and widely spread cancer, and patients who don’t wish to receive as much radiation therapy after the surgery.
2) Non-invasive Cancer Treatment/Radiation
Non-invasive methods refer to treatments that don’t require surgery. Instances of breast cancer treatment often involve both invasive and non-invasive methods for effectiveness. As previously mentioned, radiation therapy, a non-invasive breast cancer treatment, might be necessary after breast-conserving surgery or a mastectomy, especially if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other areas of the body.
Radiation therapy is a method by which high-energy rays (x-rays, for instance) are used kill cancer cells in targeted areas of the body. The radiation, however, often effects other non-targeted areas as well. This method can be external or internal. External radiation therapy utilizes a machine outside the body that emits radiation, while internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy) involves a source of radiation placed within the body temporarily. Brachytherapy is invasive, while external radiation therapy is non-invasive.
3) Proton Cancer Treatment/Proton Radiation Therapy
In recent years, significant medical advances have been made in the radiation therapy field. A method known as proton radiation therapy is a safer and more effective radiation treatment for all kinds of cancer, including breast cancer. Unlike traditional radiation treatments, proton treatment stops after it reaches its targeted tissue. As a result, far less radiation can travel to non-cancerous parts of the body. Normal radiation therapy can have damaging effects such as hair loss, loss of fertility in men, and other future health issues. Proton therapy reduces these risks significantly. For instance, the radiation dose to a patient’s gastrointestinal system is potentially decreased by 60% with proton treatment as opposed to x-ray radiation.
While there is still no solid cure for cancer, the disease can be treated in several ways. Thanks to advances in surgery, radiation, and proton therapy, more people are effectively fighting cancer and defeating it. It seems likely that in the near future we might finally see some significant decreases in the rates of cancer related deaths.