Unresectable Breast Cancer

Unresectable Breast Cancer – What It Is and What It Isn’t

Breast cancer remains the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women worldwide and it can come in different forms. Unresectable breast cancer is one of these forms and it presents unique challenges.

To understand unresectable breast cancer, it’s important to know that breast cancer tumors can be categorized based on how they respond or react to treatment or to medical intervention. Resectable tumors are those that can be surgically removed, while unresectable tumors, as the name implies, are those that cannot be surgically removed.

This does not mean that an individual diagnosed with unresectable cancer is unable to receive treatment. In most cases, it does mean that an individual diagnosed with unresectable cancer will receive a much different treatment plan than those with resectable tumors.

What Does It Mean to Have Unresectable Breast Cancer?

Unresectable breast cancer means that a tumor can’t be completely excised or removed by surgery. It may be:

  • Too large to be safely removed.
  • Located in an area that’s difficult to access.
  • Too deeply rooted in the tissue around it.
  • Unable to be cleared with clean margins, meaning some of the cancerous tissue remains.

The presence of an irresectable tumor does not mean that the breast cancer has advanced or spread to other areas of the body, even though metastatic cancer is potentially unresectable. It simply means that surgery alone is not suitable to remove the tumor.

Diagnosing and Treating Unresectable Breast Cancer

In most cases, unresectable breast cancer is first identified by a biopsy, after which imaging tests such as MRI, CT scan or PET scan are performed to determine the size, shape and location of the tumor. A pathologist reviews the sample from the biopsy to determine if the tumor is resectable or unresectable.

Treatment for unresectable breast cancer typically involves a combination of therapies. Surgery may still be performed to remove as much of the tumor as possible. This is often followed by chemotherapy, radiation or hormonal therapy, all of which can help to shrink the tumor or hamper its further growth. In some cases, systemic therapies may be used to help the body fight off the cancer.

Breast cancer treatment plans are individualized to each patient’s needs, and it’s important to speak to your doctor if you’ve been diagnosed with unresectable breast cancer to discuss your options and understand the possible implications of a particular treatment. With the right combination of therapies, many individuals with unresectable tumors are able to improve their prognosis.