Breast Cancer Treatment

Medical Treatments

Medical Treatment

Millions of women are surviving breast cancer today because of early detection and new groundbreaking women's cancer treatment. If you have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, ask your doctor about the best treatments for your particular situation. Treatments fall into several categories, depending on how they work and when they are used. Local therapy, such as surgery and radiation, treats the tumor at the site without affecting the rest of the body.1 Systemic therapy, such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy, fights cancer cells throughout the body.1 Here is an overview of treatment options you may encounter and wish to discuss with your healthcare provider:

  • Surgery: In most cases, surgery is recommended to remove as much of the cancer as possible.2 Surgery also may be done to discover whether cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.2 Breast-conserving surgery (BCS), also known as partial mastectomy or lumpectomy, removes only part of the breast, depending on the size and placement of the tumor as well as other factors.2 Mastectomy is surgery that removes the entire breast and sometimes the lymph nodes under the arm.2 After having a mastectomy (or some breast-conserving surgeries), some women choose to have reconstructive surgery to restore the way the breast looks.2 If you're considering breast reconstruction, talk to a plastic surgeon about options before your surgery.2
  • Radiation: Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to kill cancer cells.3 Radiation therapy may be used to kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery or, less often, to shrink a tumor before surgery.3 The method most often used is external beam radiation, which is similar to getting a regular X-ray, but the radiation is more intense.3 Another type of radiation, brachytherapy, involves placing radioactive pellets into the breast tissue next to the cancer; it may be given along with external beam radiation or on its own.3
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy (cancer-killing drugs) may be put into a vein, given as a shot or taken orally.4 These drugs, which enter the bloodstream, are useful for treating cancer that may have spread to distant organs.4 Some patients receive chemo after surgery, even if there is no sign that the cancer has spread, to prevent the cancer from coming back.4 Other patients receive chemo before surgery, to first shrink large tumors or to see how the cancer responds.4 If you are undergoing chemotherapy, you may experience side effects, since the drugs that kill cancer cells also damage some normal cells.4
  • Hormone Therapy: Hormone therapy is most often used to reduce the risk of cancer coming back after surgery, but it may also be used for breast cancer that has spread or come back after treatment.5 Hormone therapy most often involves drugs that block estrogen or change hormone levels.5 In some cases, hormone therapy includes removing or shutting down the ovaries.5
  • Targeted Therapy: Often used alongside chemotherapy, targeted therapy involves newer drugs that are aimed at cancer-causing gene changes.6 They work differently than standard chemo drugs, often causing less severe side effects.6
  • Clinical Trials: Clinical trials, carefully controlled research studies with patient volunteers, test promising new treatments and procedures.7 If you're interested in learning about clinical trials, visit the American Cancer Society® website at or the National Cancer Institute website at and discuss options with your doctor.7

For More Information:
1General types of treatment,
2Surgery for breast cancer,
3Radiation therapy,
5Hormone therapy,
6Targeted therapy,
7Clinical Trials,