Breast Cancer: Diagnosis and Treatment Navigation

Rachita’s life changed unexpectedly when she faced the possibility of breast cancer. She felt fear and uncertainty, like many others in the same situation. However, Rachita didn’t let fear control her. After conversations with her doctor, she decided to face the situation head-on and underwent the necessary tests and treatments. She learned that healing goes beyond the physical battle and is a profound transformation within. While she is better now and adjusting to the “new normal,” the fear of recurrence still creeps in occasionally.

Breast Cancer Recurrence: Understanding the Odds

Dr. Ullas Batra, Co-director of the Dept of Medical Oncology at Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre in Delhi, said that receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is a life-altering moment. The possibility of recurrence can be even more challenging. Research indicates a significant risk of recurrence, ranging from 30% to 60%, within a decade of the initial breast cancer diagnosis. There is a substantial delay in patients accessing healthcare services in India, leading to over 60% of breast cancer diagnoses occurring at advanced stages, usually stage II or III. The stage at which breast cancer is first detected can significantly impact the likelihood of recurrence or metastasis. For example, individuals with Stage III breast cancer are at greater risk of experiencing recurrent breast cancer compared to those with Stage I or II diagnoses. Despite considerable progress in improving breast cancer survival rates, the fear of relapse and the prospect of life after metastasis continue to weigh heavily on the minds of many.

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The Breast Cancer Treatment Landscape

Breast cancer is becoming an increasing global concern, particularly among aging women. In 2020, a WHO study revealed 2.3 million new cases, accounting for 11.7% of all cancer types diagnosed. In most cases, a patient diagnosed with breast cancer undergoes a combination of medical and surgical treatment. Unlike a few years ago, there are now multiple treatment modalities available for the management of breast cancer. Medical treatment includes chemotherapy, radiation therapy, endocrine therapy, and advanced adjuvant therapies. It is important to consider the long-term value plan when choosing the right treatment option through discussions with one’s doctor. Research indicates that when combined with conventional hormonal therapies, advanced treatments have proven highly effective in combating cancer. Additionally, these advanced therapies have demonstrated their capacity to enhance patients’ quality of life in the event of a cancer recurrence or metastasis.

In recent times, access to these treatment options has become easier for breast cancer patients. For example, oral chemotherapy is now included in many corporate health insurance schemes.

Deciding Between Traditional vs Advanced Therapies

Traditionally, chemotherapy has been used as the initial line of defense post-surgery for patients diagnosed with breast cancer. However, there has been an introduction of targeted advanced therapies that have become increasingly popular due to yielding better results with fewer side effects. This type of therapy helps block the replication of cancer cells, significantly reducing the risk of recurrence while avoiding the side effects that come with chemotherapy alone.

It can be daunting to make treatment decisions, but with the right plan, one can lead a fulfilling life even post-diagnosis. Prioritizing follow-up care, adhering to the treatment plan, and regular breast cancer screening are all important to combatting breast cancer and enhancing the likelihood of a full recovery.

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