Breast Cancer Treatment

Doctors diagnose cancer and determine it's origin by looking at a sample of the tumor under a microscope. Then, before deciding on a treatment strategy, physicians must determine if or how much the breast cancer has spread. This is called staging.

Prognosis, or the patient's outlook for recovery, depends on the stage of the cancer and the best choice of treatment. Whether or not lymph nodes are involved and if the cancer has spread are pivotal factors in deciding what treatment to utilize. If breast cancer is found and treated before it has spread to lymph nodes or other organs, the five-year survival rate is extremely high - about 98%.

Breast cancer can spread nearly anywhere in the body, but most commonly it spreads to the brain, bone, and liver. The information from a whole-body PET/CT scan is used to accurately stage the entire body for the presence and location of active tumor and to aid the physician in treatment decisions.

The type of treatment chosen is based on both the type of cancer cells found as well as the stage of the cancer. Surgery may be recommended to remove the breast tumor and the doctor may also recommend radiation therapy, hormonal therapy or chemotherapy as well. A PET/CT scan provides the physician with additional information to determine the amount and type of chemotherapy to use as well as the area to be treated by the radiation beams in radiation therapy. Treatment can be tailored specifically to the patient, depending upon the location and extent of cancer.

During the course of treatment, it is important to know if the treatment is working. Metabolic changes occur before anatomical changes and in general, the greater the decline in radiopharmaceutical uptake, the better the response to treatment and the better the patient's outcome. The information from the PET/CT scan allows physicians to monitor the effectiveness of cancer therapies and provides physicians with the opportunity to change the treatment strategy if it is not working, avoiding the cost and discomfort of ineffective therapeutic procedures. Generally, responses to breast cancer treatments are assessed by comparing a baseline PET/CT scan with another one done after one or two cycles of treatment.

PET/CT is a noninvasive test that physicians utilize to stage the entire body for the presence or absence of active tumor.