Breast Cancer Treatment
When you come to Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute, you benefit from the latest diagnostic and treatment advances in breast cancer. Our breast cancer team goes beyond using the most sophisticated treatments – we help develop the next generation of techniques and technology for breast cancer treatment.
Expert breast cancer treatment at Allegheny Health Network
Our team works with you to find the treatment that fits your needs. At the Cancer Institute, you will find:
- Leaders in breast cancer treatment: AHN specialists lead the NSABP Foundation, the world’s preeminent breast cancer research program. It’s one of the largest focusing on breast cancer clinical trials. Learn more about our revolutionary work with the NSABP.
- Personalized treatment plan: We work with you to tailor a comprehensive treatment plan for you. We may use a single treatment technique, or we may combine therapy options to give you the best results. At every step of the way, we will discuss your options and consider your personal preferences and lifestyle. We offer robust support services to keep you living the best quality of life during treatment.
Breast cancer surgery
Surgery is often a cornerstone of breast cancer treatment. It can be very effective in removing the tumor. We work with excellent plastic surgeons to provide you with reconstructive options if necessary. Types of surgery we offer include:
- Partial mastectomy: We remove the tumor along with some breast tissue.
- Reconstructive breast surgery: This plastic surgery procedure rebuilds the breasts after a full or partial mastectomy. We may use implants or tissue from another part of the body.
- Sentinel lymph node surgery: We identify, remove, and examine the sentinel lymph node to determine whether cancer cells are present. The sentinel lymph node is the first lymph node to which cancer cells are likely to spread. If the sentinel lymph node is not cancerous, you will likely avoid extensive lymph node surgery.
- Simple mastectomy: We remove all the breast tissue to prevent the recurrence or spread of cancer.
- Skin-sparing mastectomy: This procedure allows a patient to keep much of the breast skin for reconstructive surgery. We remove only the nipple, areola, and the original biopsy scar.
- Nipple-sparing mastectomy: This surgical option is for individuals with early stage cancer near the outer part of the breast. The procedure removes the breast tissue but keeps the nipple and areola in place.
- Axillary lymph node dissection: When we find cancer in the lymph nodes, we use this procedure together with a mastectomy. We remove lymph nodes in the underarm area, ensuring that the area is cancer-free.
- Modified radical mastectomy: This procedure combines a simple mastectomy and axillary lymph node dissection. We remove the breast and underarm lymph nodes.
- Radical mastectomy: We remove the entire breast tissue, underarm lymph nodes, plus some of the chest wall (pectoral) muscles. This procedure is more extensive. We perform it less frequently because often, a modified radical mastectomy is sufficient. However, there are times that this surgery may be the most effective treatment option.
Radiation therapy for breast cancer
Radiation therapy uses targeted radiation beams to shrink and destroy cancer cells. We may use radiation therapy alone, or we may use it after surgery to ensure that we got rid of all of the cancer cells. Types of radiation therapy include:
External beam radiation therapy
We direct beams of radiation at the area where the cancer is located or was located before surgery.
- Whole breast radiotherapy: This treatment minimizes recurrence of cancer following a tumor removal. Many studies show that this is as effective as a mastectomy for patients with small or moderate-sized tumors. New techniques allow us to treat patients who meet the criteria over a three-week period. Traditional treatments may take seven weeks.
- Partial breast radiotherapy: We use this option in smaller parts of the breast, after a tumor removal, to lessen the chances of the cancer coming back.
Internal radiation therapy
Instead of aiming radiation beams from outside the body, we place radioactive seeds into the breast. We perform this outpatient procedure in an operating room. We give you local or general anesthesia.
- Brachytherapy: We inject pellets into the breast to deliver specific doses of radiation and remove the pellets after each treatment. This outpatient procedure takes place over five days.
- Permanent breast seed implant therapy: We embed rice-sized seeds into the breast to deliver a continuous dose of radiation over several months. Used in select patients with small tumors, we complete the entire procedure during a one-hour outpatient session.
Medical oncology for breast cancer
Our expert oncologists treat patients using a variety of medications. Your physician coordinates your medication needs with you and your Navigation Team.
Medical oncology at the Cancer Institute includes:
- Chemotherapy: We deliver strong medication that directly kills cancer cells. Because of the strength of these drugs, you may experience side effects. These include hair loss, nausea, and lowered blood counts, which may lead to infections. Our team works with you to reduce the side effects. We carefully monitor you to determine medication doses. The correct dose helps reduce side effects and maximizes effectiveness.
- Targeted therapy: These drugs target and help block the spread of cancer. They typically cause less severe side effects than chemotherapy.
- Immunotherapy: These vaccines or drugs help your own immune system fight the cancer cells.
Rehabilitation after breast cancer treatment
Because of the many minimally invasive, outpatient options, patients frequently resume their normal lives shortly after surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. For patients undergoing mastectomy, the Cancer Institute offers a comprehensive accelerated recovery program. Visit one of our 10 convenient locations. You can also request a home visit from a rehabilitation therapist through our Healthcare@Home service. Learn more about rehabilitation program.
Numerous professionals work together to help you understand and feel comfortable with any changes to your body, physically and psychologically. The team assisting your complete rehabilitation includes:
- Pain management specialists
- Infection control specialists
- Physical therapists