Breast Cancer (Facts, Stages) (cont.)

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Should I stop taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT)?

Breast cells are programmed to respond to certain hormones as signals for growth and multiplication. The most prominent examples of these hormones are estrogens and progesterone. Many breast-cancer cells retain hormone receptors (molecular configurations on the cell surface to which the hormones bind). The hormone receptors, therefore, make the cancer cells responsive to these particular hormones.

In general, taking hormones is not recommended if a diagnosis of breast cancer is under consideration. This does not necessarily mean that you can never resume hormone replacement therapy. This issue is generally reconsidered after the completion of your evaluation and treatment. You should consult with your physician before you stop or start any new medications.

Even though my breast tumor does not have hormone receptors, should I take tamoxifen to reduce the risk of a new tumor?

Following completion of your treatment for breast cancer, whether or not tamoxifen (Nolvadex) is prescribed should at least be addressed. In many cases, the primary breast cancer for which the patient is being treated may not be hormone-receptor positive. In these cases, tamoxifen (which binds to the estrogen receptor in place of estrogen) is not generally part of the treatment protocol.

However, the Breast Cancer Prevention Trial (a study of the use of tamoxifen) demonstrated a significant reduction in the development of new cancers in the opposite breast in patients who were treated with tamoxifen. So, the possible use and benefits of tamoxifen should not be ignored. A thoughtful evaluation of all the factors in a particular case will lead to a recommendation which balances the benefits of tamoxifen against the potential risks. Your treatment team should address this issue with you.

I have a ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a type of localized cancer. Why have I been advised to have a mastectomy when other women with invasive cancer have lumpectomies?

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) sometimes presents a difficult dilemma. Most patients with DCIS can undergo successful breast-conservation therapy but not all. The diagnosis implies that this is an "early" form of cancer in the sense that the cancer cells have not acquired the ability to penetrate normal tissue barriers or spread through the vascular or lymphatic channels to other sites of the body. It is important to realize that breast cancer is a wide spectrum of diseases and no comparisons should be made just on the basis that someone you know has "breast cancer" and shares a different treatment approach with you.

However, the millions of cells forming the DCIS have accumulated a series of errors in their DNA programs which allow them to grow out of control. There are varying degrees of disturbance, called "grades," of the normal cellular patterns. Low grades are usually more favorable, and high grades are less favorable.

The DCIS cells originate from the inside of the breast gland ducts (microscopic tubes). As they multiply, the cells fill and spread through the normal ducts of the breast glandular tissue. With many DNA errors already in place and millions of these cells exposed to the usual risks of additional DNA damage, a few cells will ultimately become invasive. This invasive change is the real risk of DCIS.

Treatment which does not physically remove all of the DCIS seems to leave some risk of recurrence and, therefore, invasive disease. This risk of recurrence is particularly increased in the high-grade form of DCIS. In cases where the DCIS has spread extensively through the breast ducts, even though the disease is in a sense "early" because it is not yet invasive, it may still require a large surgical resection, at times even a mastectomy (removal of all or part of the breast).

Your treatment team should be able to discuss the pros and cons of the different approaches and actively include you in the decision process.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/5/2015

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