Published on October 28, 2021

doctor with xray mammogram

Advances in Breast Cancer Treatment

Over the years, Physicians and Scientists have made significant progress in understanding breast cancer. As a result, Not only has treatment advanced, but so has the technology behind routine screening mammogram, allowing radiologists to see early cancers more easily. Surupa Sen Gupta, MD, a breast surgeon at Aquillino Cancer Center and Shady Grove Medical Center, highlights how breast cancer treatments have advanced over time.

Currently, there is no cure for breast cancer, but survival rates have improved due to early detection and the treatments patients receive from their cancer team. “For someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, their treatment will depend on their overall health, the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer and the location of the tumor,” explains Dr. Sen Gupta. “Your care team may suggest surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, endocrine therapy or a clinical trial to aid in your treatment,” she adds.

Surgical Advances

Until the mid-1980’s, breast surgery typically meant undergoing a mastectomy. It wasn’t until 1985 when researchers discovered that a lumpectomy combined with radiation could give a woman the same survival rates as one who only has a mastectomy. “In recent years, many of the breast surgery treatment options have become minimally invasive allowing for shorter recovery time, less pain and a faster return to everyday activities,” says Dr. Sen Gupta.

While some tumors can be easily identifiable in surgery, smaller tumors can be more difficult to find and need to be marked. Prior to surgery, to assist with finding the tumor location, your surgeon may use a minimally invasive procedure called wire localization to mark where the tumor is, so they know where it is on the day of surgery. This allows them to take out the tumor and keep the surrounding healthy breast tissue intact. The Savi Scout procedure is another technique used for localization. This is a minimally invasive localization procedure that can occur up to seven days prior to surgery. A small device, called a reflector, is placed in the breast tissue and used to guide the surgeon to the correct area.

Radiation Advances

Radiation therapy is used to kill cancer cells through X-rays and protons and can be given externally or internally. External radiation is the most common and delivers radiation from outside of your body to the area of the breast with cancer. Internal radiation is given through a device implanted temporarily in your breast to provide treatment. Your doctor may recommend radiation in addition to surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence post-surgery. Much of the technology for each type of radiation has also improved to be more targeted and precise, limiting the exposure to other parts of the body.


“Not every woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer will undergo chemotherapy as treatment,” says Dr. Sen Gupta. “The type of breast cancer you have will determine if you will need chemotherapy,” she adds. More advanced breast cancer is often treated with chemotherapy and may also be treated with radiation and surgery. There are several different types of chemotherapy that may be prescribed to you. Chemo drugs are constantly changing and evolving as new research is provided to physicians. Several chemotherapy drugs are also in clinical trials, and depending on the diagnosis, your physician may recommend another type.

The breast cancer survival rate has greatly increased with advances in treatment and care, especially if it’s caught in the early stages. Early Breast cancer has a five-year survival rate of over 90% which means women who have breast cancer are 90% as likely to live for at-least five years after being diagnosed as women who don’t have cancer. Continue self-breast exams and talk to your doctor about when you should begin routine mammograms. It is recommended that women of average risk for breast cancer begin screenings at age 40 and continue every year depending on your risk and doctor’s recommendation.

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