Cancer can be a frightening and upsetting diagnosis. It’s important to discuss your treatment options with your doctor. Ask lots of questions and get a second opinion. Some people have a test called a sentinel lymph node biopsy of the lymph nodes under their arms (axillary lymph nodes). This helps find out if breast cancer cells have spread.
If you find a lump or other change in your breast, immediately see your doctor. Your doctor will examine you and take a health history. They’ll order HER2+ breast cancer tests to look for cancer cells and determine if they have spread. The tests include a physical exam, an ultrasound, and an MRI of the breast. As your doctor recommends, you must undergo additional tests, such as a blood test to check your hormone levels and a biopsy of the growth or lump.
Furthermore, surgery may be deemed necessary depending on the size of your tumor, whether it has spread, and the type of cancer. Please take these recommendations seriously and make the necessary arrangements immediately. For example, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a noninvasive cancer that begins in the cells that line a breast duct. It doesn’t spread into other tissues and doesn’t cause symptoms, but it can grow into invasive cancer. A surgeon might remove the tumor and surrounding tissue in a lumpectomy procedure. They might also remove the nipple and areola in a mastectomy. Your physician will recommend a sentinel lymph node biopsy to check for cancer signs in your armpit lymph nodes. An axillary node dissection will also be performed by removing the lymph nodes in your armpit. Chemotherapy will be administered before or after surgery to reduce the tumor size and eliminate any remaining cancer cells, depending on the cancer’s size and spread.
If a person finds a lump in the breast or notices an abnormal tissue area, it’s essential to see a doctor immediately. The doctor can evaluate the area with a physical exam and other tests. The first step is to determine if the tumor is cancerous by conducting several diagnostic tests, including X-rays and an ultrasound. A mammogram is the most commonly used imaging test, but MRI and other scans may sometimes be necessary. When the test results suggest the potential of breast cancer, the doctor must recommend a biopsy to verify the diagnosis. During this procedure, a minuscule tissue sample is taken from the affected area and scrutinized under a microscope to detect cancerous cells or anomalies. The pathologist can also determine the type of cancer, its grade, and hormone receptor and HER2 status. Sometimes, a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast) is necessary, but newer surgical techniques can spare the skin and nipple in some cases. A sentinel lymph node biopsy can be performed during breast cancer surgery to identify whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes under the arm. This procedure involves using dye or a radioactive tracer to locate the first few lymph nodes to which cancer could spread.
There are different treatment options for breast cancer, depending on its type and stage. You and your doctor should discuss your options and decide what’s best for you. This is called shared decision-making. Generally, surgery is the primary treatment for invasive breast cancer and noninvasive (ductal carcinoma in situ or DCIS) breast cancer. A surgeon removes the tumor and a small area of healthy tissue around it (a margin). Sometimes, doctors can’t find all the cancer cells. But if they remove enough, the cancer is less likely to return or spread. If cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes under your arms, a surgeon may recommend a sentinel node biopsy to remove them. Radiation therapy can be used before or after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells in the breast or if the cancer has spread to other organs. Chemotherapy drugs can be administered through an IV or orally, but they may cause side effects such as fatigue, hair loss, weight changes, and skin reactions. Some drugs may also cause peripheral neuropathy, resulting in numbness in the hands and feet. If you experience pain, your healthcare team can provide medication to manage it.
You’ll have regular follow-up care to ensure the cancer doesn’t return and that you’re healthy. You’ll see your doctor and other healthcare team members regularly, usually every six months for a few years and then every year for many more years. Your doctor may recommend a lumpectomy with a small, cancer-free tissue margin around the tumor. This surgery is also called breast-conserving surgery or a partial mastectomy. If your cancer is invasive or you have DCIS, radiation therapy will be needed after the lumpectomy. Radiation may be given to the whole breast or the area where the lump was located. In addition, your doctor may recommend having a lymph node dissection. Lymph nodes are the first place cancer can spread to other body parts. Your doctor will remove and analyze one or more lymph nodes under your arm next to your affected breast (the sentinel nodes). If cancer cells haven’t reached the sentinel nodes, you may not need further removal of other lymph nodes. Worrying about your cancer will come back, especially after you finish treatment, is expected. But try not to let fear stop you from doing things you enjoy and fulfilling the life goals you set before your diagnosis. Talk with your doctors about managing your stress and the risks of cancer recurrence.