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Private Health Treatments for Breast Cancer

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 28 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Breast Cancer Private Health Sector

The private health sector in the UK carries out many cosmetic operations on breasts each year but having surgery for breast cancer within a private setting is becoming increasingly common. Private healthcare centres offer diagnostic tests and screening facilities at some of the larger hospitals and clinics. Most women diagnosed with breast cancer undergo surgery to remove the cancerous cells as quickly as possible. They may then need follow up treatment with chemotherapy, radiotherapy or hormone-based drugs.

Lumpectomy as a Breast Cancer Treatment

Large studies have shown that removing cancerous breast tissue using a lumpectomy technique, in which only the lump and the tissue surrounding it is taken away, is just as effective as a complete mastectomy in treatment of early stage breast cancers. A lumpectomy is a lesser procedure, so does not carry the same risks as the most extensive mastectomy operation, and it leads to less disfigurement, so both physical and psychological recovery is quicker. Lumpectomy is available as a treatment for breast cancer at most private hospitals and centres in the UK and usually only requires one night’s stay in hospital.

What is a Quantrantectomy?

A quantrantectomy is also known as a segmental excision, which gives a clue to the procedure. This form of breast surgery is more extensive than a lumpectomy because it removes a much larger volume of breast tissue – often a whole segment of the breast. It is done when a mammogram shows that the site of the breast cancer is more extensive, so a bigger area, with wider margins is required to remove all of the cancer cells. Many private hospitals offer this as an option, and the stay in hospital is not usually much longer than with a lumpectomy.

Mastectomy for Breast Cancer

Larger private medical centres specialising in breast cancer treatment will also be able to perform a full mastectomy. This may be needed if there are several tumours in the breast, if there is a single but quite large tumour, or of the tumour is directly behind the nipple. The entire breast is removed, leaving a horizontal scar. Breast removal can be followed by breast reconstruction surgery and plastic surgery to replace the breast tissue to give a good body outline. Breast reconstruction surgery is sometimes possible at the same time as a mastectomy but, if you are unsure whether to have this, you can leave the decision until later and have a reconstruction operation weeks or months later.

As in the NHS, private breast surgeons will also examine the lymph glands close to the breast tissue during the primary operation as these provide information on whether the cancer has started to spread. Taking a small sample of the lymph node tissue is done using a procedure called a sentinel node biopsy. If no cancerous cells are found in the nearby lymph nodes, it is sometimes not necessary to have chemotherapy or radiotherapy, just to follow up using drug treatments such as Tamoxifen. If, however, there are signs of cancerous cells in the lymph nodes under the arm, these may need to be completely removed in an operation called an axillary lymph node dissection.

Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy for breast cancer is only offered by the largest private hospitals in the UK, so this treatment is often carried out in an NHS hospital. Chemotherapy is more commonly given in private hospitals, as treatment is usually at intervals, perhaps every week, and requires only a visit to the hospital as an outpatient.

Drug Therapy after Breast Cancer Surgery

Most private health insurance policies will cover you for follow up drug treatment for breast cancer, including Tamoxifen, Herceptin and the aromatase inhibitors. The drug that is recommended for you will depend on your age (some drugs are only suitable for pre-menopausal women, others only for post-menopausal women) and the type of cancer that you have had. Herceptin, for example, will only work on women whose breast cancers expressed a receptor called HER-2. If your cancer does not have that receptor, taking Herceptin will be of no benefit and you would be taking an unnecessary drug.

Recovering from Breast Cancer

As well as offering excellent facilities for breast reconstruction and cosmetic scar reduction, private hospitals also provide good emotional support as you deal with breast cancer and the treatments you need to have. If you are newly diagnosed, it is reassuring to know that the majority of women told they have early stage breast cancer today will live for at least 10 years.

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