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A review of Breast Cancer post - surgical treatment options (first of two parts)

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

Breast Cancer Treatment

Part 1


Two types of Breast Cancer Surgery


For this article, I focus on post-surgical treatment. The two main types of breast cancer surgery are:


Lumpectomy – aka breast conserving surgery.

            Typically recommended for women with newly diagnosed, early-stage breast cancers. In this procedure, the tumour (lump) plus a small amount of healthy tissue surrounding the cancer is removed from the breast. The removal of healthy tissue is taken so that it can be tested for traces of cancer. If there is no cancer identified, then the chance of cancer returning are diminished. If cancer is present, then more surgery may be required to remove all traces. Generally, this surgery is followed with radiotherapy treatment to minimise risk of cancer returning.


            Mastectomy is the removal of the whole breast including the nipple. Generally, a mastectomy is performed if the cancer is large or there is more than one cancer in the breast or potential risk of the cancer returning is too high for a lumpectomy to be successful, but the cancer is contained within the breast, i.e., hasn’t spread to lymph nodes. Breast reconstruction surgery, if appropriate can be carried out a part of the mastectomy operation – or at a later stage once post-surgery treatment has ended.

Depending on each situation, further surgery for any secondary cancer, for example where it has spread into the lymph nodes may be required.

Treatment – post surgery


There are 5 types of treatment that are given either individually or in combination post-surgery: -

  1. Chemotherapy
  2. Radiotherapy
  3. Hormone Therapy
  4. Targeted (biological) Therapy
  5. Bisphosphonates

Over the next three weeks, I discuss these therapies in a bit more detail

  1. Chemotherapy

This therapy is used, generally post-surgery, to destroy any cancer cells still present. In some cases, it is used prior to any surgery, perhaps to shrink a large tumour or to retard the growth of aggressive cancer..

There are many different chemotherapy drugs that can be given either individually or mixed together. In the majority of cases, the patient will attend as an out-patient and the drugs will be given through an IV drip, although some may be able to receive their therapy by tablet or capsule orally at home.

The purpose of these cytotoxic drugs is to attack the cancer cells, damaging them to the extent that they can no longer divide, and they die as a result. As chemotherapy effects the whole body, this means that normal healthy cells are also affected, however, over time, they can repair themselves, whereas cancer cells cannot.

Chemotherapy treatment usually lasts anything from 16 to 32 weeks, depending on the type of treatment chosen. The out-patient therapy sessions are broken into single day cycles 2 or 3 weeks apart to allow the body time to recover.

Many of the side effects associated with this therapy come from the drugs damaging effect on healthy cells. As no two cases are the same, side effects may differ greatly for different people

The most common of these are: -

  • Alopecia or hair thinning
  • Greatly increased risk of infection
  • Anaemia
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Nausea and sickness
  • No appetite
  • Fertility issues (age dependent)

It’s important that people keep a record of any side effects experienced and advise the care team accordingly.

Covid Booster Vaccine

If you are suffering from cancer, you may be at more risk from COVID-19. Ask your doctor if you are eligible for the next Covid 19 booster. Whelehans Pharmacy Pearse St have a weekly walk-in clinic for Covid-19 boosters. Call 0449334591 for more.


Flu Vaccination at Whelehans (starting soon)

In the coming weeks, Whelehans will be offering the flu vaccine at our Pearse St and Clonmore store most days for adults and children. You can book online on the Whelehans Pharmacy website or ring either pharmacy. Flu vaccine is €25 (€20 if you book online) or free with medical or doctor visit card. It is free for older people and those with long term conditions (including cancer) and healthcare workers.

To be continued…next week.

For comprehensive and free health advice and information call in to Whelehans Pharmacies, log on to or dial 04493 34591 (Pearse St) or 04493 10266 (Clonmore).

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