Biological and Hormonal therapies are the other accepted direct therapies for breast cancer. Each still carry significant sideeffects and risks, but are easier on your body than chemotherapy.
Biological therapy is a treatment that uses drugs to improve the way your body’s immune system fights disease. Your immune system is your body’s natural defense against disease. A healthy and strong immune system can detect the difference between healthy cells and cancer cells. Biological therapy attempts to strengthen and improve the immune system so that it can fight the cancer more effectively.
Interferon is the most common form of biological therapy. Interferons interfere with the division of cancer cells and can slow their growth. There are several types of interferons, and they are normally produced in the body. For the use of biological therapy, interferons are made in the laboratory. Other possible biological therapies include interleukin and monoclonal antibodies (MABs).
Most biological therapies are given by injection into a vein. They are frequently given in combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Possible side effects include:
- Red, sore area where injection was given
- Flu-like symptoms – fever, chills, gastrointestinal upset
- Allergic reactions – cough, wheezing, skin rash
- Confusion, disorientation, depression
These treatments can cause extreme fatigue. It is important to get as much rest as possible when your body is fighting cancer. Talk with your doctor about how best you can minimize side effects and the discomforts that come with treatment.
To date, vaccines and other immunotherapies haven’t been effective in killing breast cancer. There is always hope that this may be effective in some patients, and scientists feel that the greatest benefit from vaccinations against breast cancer may be in those patients who have a predisposition (most likely related to a family history or a genetic mutation in a gene such as BRCA-1 or BRCA-2).
Hormonal therapy is designed to take advantage of the fact that many breast cancers are "estrogen sensitive." In other words, estrogen--a hormone--binds to the "estrogen sensitive cells and stimulates them to grow and divide. Tamoxifen prevents the binding of estrogen. This stops the cells from growing and in doing so, prevents or delays breast cancer recurrence. Although there have been recent reports that there are other anti-hormones available that may work better than tamoxifen, none have the long history of use that tamoxifen has and scientists state that women should stick with this time-tested agent. Some women who cannot tolerate tamoxifen, may be switched to one of the newer agents by their doctor.