Breast Cancer Treatment Isn’t “One-Size-Fits-All”

MARCH 08, 2018
Group of five women in close-up

Every woman with breast cancer is unique and cannot be treated by any one standardized protocol. Her age, overall health and other health conditions must be taken into consideration when creating a customized treatment plan to not only fight her cancer, but preserve every aspect of her health. In particular, young, elderly and pregnant women require highly customized care.

Breast cancer and pregnancy

If you are pregnant and have been diagnosed, your obstetric care team will collaborate fully with your oncology team to design a treatment plan that best controls the breast cancer while protecting your unborn child. The treatment plan will be determined by:

  • The size and location of the tumor

  • How far along you are in the pregnancy

  • Your overall health

Chemotherapy is not given during the first 3 months (first trimester) of pregnancy because most of the baby’s internal organs develop during this time. However, it is safe for pregnant women in the second or third trimester. Because cancer is often discovered later in pregnancy, chemotherapy is often the first line of treatment.

Surgery for breast cancer is also generally safe for both mother and baby during pregnancy, preferably after the first trimester. The entire affected breast may be removed (mastectomy) or just the tumor (lumpectomy). Your doctors will decide which anesthesia drugs and which surgical procedure is safest for both you and the baby.

Other breast cancer treatments, such as hormone therapy, targeted therapy, and radiation therapy are more likely to harm the baby and are not usually given during pregnancy. In most cases, however, if chemo and/or surgery is completed during the pregnancy, these additional therapies can be given after delivery without delay. Sometimes, doctors may choose to induce birth a few weeks early so that these treatments may be started to help lower the risk of the cancer coming back.

Breast cancer in adolescent and young adult women

Young women, between the ages of 15 and 30 are part of a unique patient population we call AYAs – adolescents and young adults. The bodies of AYAs, because they are so young, are constantly changing - physically and hormonally - which can affect how cancer develops and how it responds to various treatments. Breast cancer in young women is often more aggressive and requires a robust treatment plan.

Researchers have found that pediatric cancer treatment protocols are often more successful in AYAs and can lead to a significant increase in survival rates. Pediatric regimens may be more aggressive because younger bodies are generally healthier and better able to tolerate intense therapies.

At University Hospitals, AYA patients may choose to be seen at either UH Seidman Cancer Center or the Angie Fowler Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer Institute at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. Even if they choose UH Seidman Cancer Center as their location for care, their cancer team will include specialists from Rainbow to ensure the most effective clinical protocols are followed. And, our AYA patient navigator will consult with each young woman to discuss all aspects of their care including what steps can be taken before treatments begin to preserve their ability to have children.

Breast cancer in seniors

Many patients with breast cancer are older than 65, putting them at higher risk for dementia, depression and other complex medical issues. University Hospitals offers a unique approach to assessing seniors for special issues that may need consideration during treatment. Based on this assessment, their breast cancer treatment plan is adjusted accordingly and may include more frequent follow-up care.

At University Hospitals, patients at all ages and stages of life benefit from the personalized care that is our hallmark. This compassionate approach coupled with our arsenal of cancer-fighting tools – the most extensive in the region – ensures that patients can live life to the fullest before during and after treatment.

Related links:

Breast Cancer
Angie Fowler Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer Institute