Breast cancer has come a long way. Breast cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer in women in the United States, after lung cancer. But much has changed in the last several decades, from breast cancer treatment and outcomes to the way we view this type of cancer.

Why has breast cancer treatment changed?

Celebrity cases of breast cancer, pre-emptive mastectomies, and the creation of pink-colored everything from water bottles to trash cans, has led to increased awareness of breast cancer in both men and women. Whereas breast cancer was once stigmatized (and still is, in some countries), in the U.S., most women can expect support from their communities.

The good news is that survival rates have increased throughout the years. If the cancer is caught early and only in the breast, the five-year survival rate is 99%. The average 5-year survival rate for women with invasive breast cancer is 90%. The average 10-year survival rate is 83%.

What kinds of breast cancer treatment are there?

Part of the reason those survival rates are increasing is changes in the way doctors approach treating breast cancer. Every person’s treatment plan is unique, based on their stage and type of the disease and body type, as well as other factors. Because of that and continuous medical advances, you should not expect to receive the same treatment as your friend. Some of these changes include:

  • Genetic Testing – An oncologist will likely order a round of genetic testing, searching for various gene mutations. The results can impact not only your treatment but how you’re monitored.
  • Reduced Radiation – Breast cancer has often required radiation therapy for six weeks, but that has changed. Many doctors now base radiation time on the patient and situation, meaning some people only need radiation for as little as two weeks — or none at all.
  • Surgery – While yes, most breast cancer still requires surgery to remove the tumor. However, surgeons are always improving their techniques to remove tumors and lymph nodes with better accuracy and to minimize complications.
  • Breast Reconstruction – Breast implants and reconstruction have come a long way, and our attitudes toward this have changed drastically as well. Women are opting for reconstruction sooner and with less stigma. Surgeons can now take tissue from other parts of the body and use fat grafting — both of which will improve the natural look and feel of the reconstructed breasts.
  • Oncoplastic surgery – In some cases, the surgery to remove tumors can be combined with reconstruction to ensure the breasts look alike and prevent the need for further operations.
  • Side Effects – Chemotherapy is known to have terrible side effects, including nausea and vomiting. However, there are now more effective medicines to help people feel better as they undergo treatment.
  • Hormone Therapy – Hormone therapy drugs are a part of treating breast cancer and are now also used in some prevention.

Learn more about the latest in breast cancer research.

Prevention is the best kind of breast cancer treatment!

Remember, prevention is the best cure for most aspects of our health. Be sure to visit your doctor annually for a breast and pelvic exam and conduct self-exams at home monthly. Begin getting mammograms each year at age 45, though you can start those as young as 40.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Check out this free guide to breast cancer symptoms.

And we are here to help! Talk to your Generations Family Practice doctor about any concerns of family history or changes in your breasts.