Breast cancer medical treatment involves a variety of therapies to kill cancer cells, stop them from growing, attack some of their specific characteristics, or decrease the chance of them returning. These treatments are also known as systemic therapies, meaning treatments using substances that travel through the bloodstream, reaching and affecting cells all over the body.
Medical treatments include:
- Chemotherapy: The use of drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. We use chemotherapy to treat early-stage invasive breast cancer to get rid of any cancer cells that might be left behind after surgery and to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. Chemotherapy is used in advanced-stage breast cancer to destroy or damage cancer cells as much as possible.
- Hormonal therapy: Some breast cancers have receptors that feed on the hormones estrogen or progesterone, stimulating their growth. These are called hormone-receptor-positive cancers. If cancer cells have these receptors, we might recommend hormone therapy drugs, such as blockers or inhibitors. These drugs help to destroy cancer cells by cutting off their supply of hormones.
- Targeted therapy: Therapies that target specific characteristics of cancer cells, such as an abnormal protein (HER2, for example), can attack specific breast cancer cells without harming normal cells. Medical oncologists – specialists who administer medications to treat cancer – at UT Southwestern have been involved in groundbreaking studies that have helped shape the medical treatment of breast cancer today.
We offer access to medical treatment clinical trials to patients with all stages of breast cancer.
UT Southwestern radiation oncologists have pioneered techniques for delivering radiation to the breast while sparing the heart from excess radiation. We’ve also led the way in providing a noninvasive alternative to catheter-based, accelerated partial-breast radiation therapy.
Radiation to the breast is often given after breast-conserving surgery to help lower the chance of the cancer recurring in the breast or nearby lymph nodes. Two types of radiation, with different implants or catheters, are traditionally used: external beam radiation therapy and brachytherapy.
For external beam radiation, we use the latest technology and leading-edge techniques, often with intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). This type of radiation allows us to “shape” the beam to precisely match the shape of the targeted breast tissue while moving the radiation dose away from critical organs like the heart.
We also use advanced targeting methods to track the position of the patient’s chest wall to minimize exposure to the heart. UT Southwestern physicians were the first in Texas to combine surface-image video tracking with the deep inspiratory breath-hold cardiac-sparing technique for left-sided breast cancer patients.
UT Southwestern is the first center in Texas and only the second center in the world to offer GammaPod as a treatment option. GammaPod is the first stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) system optimized for treating breast cancer. By using principles of stereotactic radiotherapy to deliver higher doses in one to five treatment fractions, GammaPod can both reduce treatment time and potentially lower the toxicity of treatment.
Our Radiation Oncology Department is the first in the world to conduct a formal study of using the CyberKnife for early-stage breast cancer patients who are candidates for partial-breast irradiation. Previous studies proved that localized delivery of radiation in select cases is just as effective as delivering radiation to the whole breast to prevent the recurrence of cancer. In the past, such localized delivery was accomplished through different types of invasive implants. Now, however, using the CyberKnife, a highly precise, robotic instrument, we can offer our patients the opportunity for treatment with a noninvasive procedure in five or fewer sessions.
Breast Reconstruction After Surgery
UT Southwestern’s plastic surgeons specialize in breast reconstruction after cancer. They perform all three types of breast reconstruction:
- Autologous tissue-based reconstruction (using tissue from another part of the body)
- Implant reconstruction (with saline or silicone)
- Combination autologous and implant reconstruction
Our plastic surgeons excel in advanced techniques such as “flap” procedures in breast reconstruction, including DIEP, SIEA, double-stacked flaps, TRAM, TUG, PAP, and SGAP/IGAP. A “flap” refers to skin and soft tissue with a blood supply from a main artery and vein, which are linked to blood vessels in the chest (IMA/IMV).
In the DIEP (deep inferior epigastric artery perforator) or SIEA (superficial inferior epigastric artery perforator) procedures, our surgeons use tissue from the abdomen to build the new breast. With the TUG (transverse upper gracilis) or PAP (profunda artery perforator) procedures, we use tissue from the inner thigh area. In the SGAP (superior gluteal artery perforator) procedure, we take tissue from the upper buttocks area.
With many options available, our plastic surgeons work closely with patients to tailor reconstructive treatments that are best for them.