The Newest Life-Saving Breast Cancer Treatments

Doctors are winning the battle against breast cancer with cutting-edge therapies that boost survival rates while minimizing side effects. Here's a guide to the 6 most promising new treatments.
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Promising Breast Cancer Therapies

Good news can seem hard to come by when you're facing a diagnosis of breast cancer. But Elaine Lapinsky, 48, of Kresgeville, Pennsylvania, felt she had finally heard some when she learned she could have five days of intensive radiation therapy after her lumpectomy instead of the conventional seven weeks of daily treatments. "My diagnosis had been such a shock and my life had already been disrupted so much. I was excited to hear I might be able to finish treatment quickly," says Lapinsky, whose children were ages 13 and 17 when she got breast cancer three years ago.

Shortly after being diagnosed, Lapinsky had had a lumpectomy, but it failed to remove all the cancerous tissue. Disappointed, she sought out another specialist for a second operation. He happened to be participating in a nationwide trial of five-day partial breast irradiation, a technique that had been well studied in patient trials but didn't have an established track record, as had traditional radiation. Still, after hearing him out and doing her own reading, "I felt confident that it would be an effective alternative in my case," Lapinsky says. "Plus, not having to make the 45-minute drive to the oncologist's office, each way, every day, for seven weeks was a huge draw. I so much wanted to be done!"

After her five-day treatment, Lapinsky felt no fatigue, a common side effect of traditional radiation, and she was left with just a smattering of tiny, permanent red marks on her breast. Today she remains free of breast cancer. Her experience illustrates how, for the more than 200,000 American women diagnosed with breast cancer each year, there's more hope than ever. "In terms of treatment, we are constantly making huge jumps forward, not just in how well we can fight the disease, but in the quality of life women can have," says oncologist Kimberly Blackwell, MD, an assistant professor of medicine and radiation oncology at Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, North Carolina.

But you shouldn't rush to try something new -- in fact, you shouldn't rush at all when it comes to making any treatment decision, says Dr. Blackwell. "I can't emphasize enough how important it is to take your time! Look into all your options, weigh pros and cons, and carefully explore what's right for you. Only then, with the help of your doctors, should you choose a treatment plan."

With that advice in mind, here's the lowdown on six promising new options for treating breast cancer. All of them have been well researched for efficacy and safety among patients, but because these treatments are new, they aren't as time-tested as older therapies. These innovations won't be right for every patient, but use this guide to talk with your doctor about the technologies that might help you win the breast-cancer battle.

Continued on page 2:  Partial Breast Irradiation (PBI)


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