There are a number of potential treatments for breast cancer, but the most common ones are:
- Surgical procedures;
- Radiation therapy;
- Drugs that target cancer;
- Hormonal therapy (also called endocrine therapy);
Depending on your situation, you may receive a combination of some or all of these treatments. Your doctor will work out which treatment(s) will work best for you by taking into account any number of different factors.
Surgery is the starting point for many breast cancer treatments. Different types of surgery are available.
You might be given the opportunity to choose your own treatments if the doctor deems it appropriate. Some people with breast cancer are able to simply have the cancerous lump itself removed with a small border of breast tissue, if the size and position of the cancer allow for this. This is referred to as a “lumpectomy” or wide local excision. Patients in these cases generally require radiotherapy on the rest of the breast for several weeks afterwards.
In other cases, removing the whole breast is the only option. This operation is known as a “mastectomy”. Either during or after this surgery, the patient will be able to have a breast reconstruction – a new breast shape inserted to replace the part removed.
Life after Surgery
Major operations and those requiring general anaesthetic are likely to leave you feeling very tired, even after you get home. In the days after your surgery, you should only do as much as you feel able to. Your doctor will give you advice on getting active again, and it’s important that you try to follow this and move around as soon as you feel able. Moving around will build up strength in your muscles, get your blood flowing and even encourage your wounds to heal.
It’s generally a good idea to try and resume your normal routines as soon as you can. You can even try using this as an opportunity to make the changes you’ve been putting off: to get in shape, quit smoking or eat more healthily.
Directly after the operation, you may have a dressing over the area. Your nurses should give you instructions for how to care for this properly, and it’s important that you follow them closely.
Drains and Tubes
You may have some tubes going into your body when you wake up after surgery. These might include:
- An intravenous infusion (“drip”), which is used to give you fluids until you’re well enough to eat and drink, or to give you blood transfusions if necessary;
- If you’ve had a longer operation such as breast reconstruction, you may have a tube running into your bladder to collect urine;
- Wound drains to stop blood and fluid collecting around the area.
If you have wound drains in, these will need to stay in until there’s no longer any fluid to collect. This generally takes around two to five days.
You don’t need to stay in the hospital for all this time – going home with the drain still in is very common. If you do this, your nurse will give you a set of written instructions on how to care for the drains properly. You won’t be on your own, though: a district nurse will be able to call to your house to check on how your drains are doing. If no district nurse is available, you may have to go back to the hospital every few days until the drain is removed.
Taking Care of Your Emotions
It’s common to feel very upset for the first few months after surgery. You’re likely to feel any number of different emotions, such as…
The experience of having breast cancer and surgery can also have a big impact on your self confidence. Surgery can have very different effects on different people. Coming to terms with changes to your body, such as the removal or alteration of a breast, can take time. There is absolutely no rush – give yourself plenty of time to get used to it.
It can sometimes help to talk to people who have had similar experiences. Try talking to your nurse about good online support groups or groups that are running in your area. For example, Cancer Research UK run a great online forum called Cancer Chat which is well worth checking out.
Physical Care: Avoiding Blood Clots
Following your operation, it’s important to keep an eye out for blood clotting by being aware of the following signs:
- Leg is swollen or sore;
- Larger veins than normal near the surface of your skin;
- The skin of your leg feeling hot or discoloured.
These are all symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, which can occur as a result of inactivity as well as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It’s very important that you seek medical help immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.
Prior to your operation, your doctor should discuss scarring with you. If you have a lumpectomy, the scar won’t be visible when you wear clothes as it’s generally placed within the bra line. It should gradually settle and will fade over time, though at first it may be red, swollen or raised.
If you have a mastectomy, your scar is likely to go horizontally or diagonally across the chest wall, from the outer curve of the breast to the inner part of the breast. Again, it won’t be visible when you’re wearing clothes as it’ll be placed within the bra line. Ask your surgeon or breast care nurse to show you photographs or diagrams if you want a clearer image of what this looks like before your operation.
For more information about breast cancer, check out Need2Know’s Essential Guide to Breast Cancer which will look at everything from what breast cancer is and how it’s diagnosed, right through to support options, the treatment available and how to care for your carers. Need2Know also have some great books about prostate cancer, testicular cancer and skin cancer. Whether you’re newly diagnosed, caring for a friend or just curious, we have all the information you need!