The question I am asked most often when people find out about my cancer diagnosis and treatment is, “Why are you having chemo and then surgery instead of the other way around?”
So as promised in an earlier post, I will explain why my doctors have recommended chemotherapy treatment prior to surgery.
The type of cancer I have is called Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. It starts in the milk duct with a cells that begin to multiply faster than the normal milk duct cells. As they continue to multiply, they create a mass. Healthy cells are programmed to grow to be skin or tissue or whatever and they know when to regenerate and when to stop. But cancer cells are programmed to continue to multiply and never stop. So the cancer cell’s job is to grow how ever and where ever it can. When the body realizes it has a foreign mass it sends out a distress signal and the body’s elimination process may try to eliminate it. One way the body does this is through the lymph glands. This is why breast cancer often spreads to lymph glands. Luckily in my case, no cancer was found in my glads.
Sometimes cancer cells jump ship. Meaning they leave the mother mass in hopes of starting a colony of their very own. Don’t ask me how they get there, but these rogue cells, if left undetected, can grow into life threatening masses of their own but are often too small to be detected when the first mass is found.
If the initial mass is removed, those tiny rogue cells are left to grow undetected and will likely cause trouble for their host in the future. Chemo might take care of them but there is no way to know for sure. Remember they’re too small to detect at the time the initial mass is being removed, so any chemo that is done after surgery would be a “just in case” scenario with no way to measure the effectiveness.
When chemo is administered prior to a lump being removed, the lump usually shrinks and this shrinkage can be measured. See where I’m going with this? Obviously if the detected lump is shrinking then the doctors can be relatively certain that the chemo is also affecting any undetected cells, thus giving the patient, me, a lower chance of recurrence.
So chemo first, then surgery. In my case 4 treatments of A/C Chemo (red cocktail) once every two weeks then Toxin (a more mellow chemo drug) weekly for 12 weeks, then surgery. If all goes as planned, that’s about the end of March.
I hope that explains it. Feel free to leave any comments or questions in the comment section below.