SSM Health Medical Minute – Breast cancer: What treatment questions to ask?

Medical Minute
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ST. LOUIS – Approximately one in eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. An estimated 4,500 women in Missouri annually are newly diagnosed. If detected early, nearly all breast cancers can successfully be treated. In fact, when it is detected in the earliest stages, the cure rate for breast cancer is a staggering 97%.

But what questions can caregivers or newly diagnosed patients ask about treatment? SSM Health offers tailored care and treatment designed to meet your needs on multiple levels. In addition to various surgical procedures, we offer multiple types of therapies, including radiation, chemotherapy and more. Dan Gray talked to Dr. Joshua Glaser, a breast surgeon at SSM Health DePaul Hospital, to find out what caregivers and newly diagnosed patients should know to better direct treatment options.

If you have been newly diagnosed, there are new treatments, technologies, and cutting-edge research that may benefit you.

Sorting through test results and treatment options for breast cancer can feel overwhelming. Finding a trusted care provider is a critical part of educating yourself on all of your available options.

SSM Health oncologists specialize in genetic risk assessment, detection and the treatment of breast cancer. Our multi-disciplinary care team is here to guide you through your possible treatment options.

Breast Cancer Surgery Options

If your oncologist determines that surgery is your best option, they may recommend:

  • Partial mastectomy (lumpectomy): removal of tumors and normal tissue around them
  • Modified radical mastectomy: removal of the breast and lymph nodes from the underarm
  • Skin-sparing mastectomy: performed as part of a simple (total) mastectomy or modified radical mastectomy, preserves as much of the breast skin for reconstruction as possible.
  • Nipple-areola sparing mastectomy: leaves the nipple and areola in place when breast tissue is removed (Note: the nipple and areola can hide cancer cells, so the use of this procedure depends on the location of the tumor and potential risks involved.)
  • Axillary lymph node dissection: removal of lymph nodes from under the arms to examine for cancer cells
  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy: sentinel lymph node is identified, removed and examined to determine the presence of cancer cells
  • Breast reconstruction: procedure done to reconstruct tissue removed during a previous surgical procedure

Hidden Scar® Breast Cancer Surgery

Breast surgeons at many SSM Health locations are trained in Hidden Scar techniques for surgical breast cancer procedures. Using this technique, your surgeon makes the incision in a location that is hard to see, so you won’t be reminded of the surgery or your cancer. Want to know more? Visit our Hidden Scar page and request a consultation.

Additional Therapy Options for Breast Cancer

In some cases, radiation or chemotherapy may be used in combination with a surgical procedure. These treatments are tailored to each patient to increase their chances of a full recovery from breast cancer.


Radiation therapy often is used to destroy any remaining cancer cells after a lumpectomy, partial mastectomy and sometimes a full mastectomy. It is designed to lower the chances that cancer will return or spread into nearby lymph nodes. At SSM Health, our radiation oncologists use procedures that focus treatment on the affected areas while minimizing the side effects on healthy tissue.


Chemotherapy refers to drugs that travel through the bloodstream and destroy cancer cells. It may be used before or after breast cancer surgery or to treat advanced stages of cancer. It may be administered orally or intravenously and is typically given in cycles.

Other Medical Therapies

These medicine-based therapies may be chosen as part of your individualized breast cancer treatment plan and are taken orally or administered through your veins (IV):

  • Adjuvant therapy: used in addition to a primary treatment, such as surgery, to eliminate any remaining cancer cells in the body
  • Hormone therapy: often prescribed after surgery or radiation treatments to block the body’s production of estrogen, which can promote the growth of some types of breast cancer cells
  • Anti-hormonal pills: used to manage tumors that test positive for estrogen or progesterone receptors
  • Targeted therapy: drugs that stop the action of abnormal proteins that may cause cells to grow and divide

Your physician may also recommend nutrition and lifestyle modifications and complementary therapies to support your overall wellness during your treatment.

Treatment After Breast Cancer

Beating breast cancer and embracing recovery are your well-deserved rewards for fighting the disease. After your treatment is complete, however, we encourage you to take the following steps:

  • Talk with your physician about follow-up care plans
  • Schedule regular physical exams and screenings
  • Strive to maintain a healthy diet and weight
  • Consider moderate physical exercise to rebuild strength and energy levels
  • Join a breast cancer support group

Wherever you’re at in your breast cancer journey, you can depend on SSM Health to provide you with a path to healing. To learn or to find a provider, click here.

The SSM Health Medical Minute airs every Wednesday at 7 PM on KPLR News 11 and at 9 PM on KTVI Fox 2 News.​

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