Breast Cancer: Treatment Choices
There are various treatment choices for breast cancer. Which may work best
for you? It depends on a number of factors.
Type, size, and location of the tumor in your breast
Results of tests, such as hormone receptor tests
If and how far the cancer has spread (stage)
Your age, overall health, menopause status, and breast size
Your personal needs and preferences
Learning about your treatment options
You may have questions and concerns about your treatment options. You may
also want to know how you’ll feel and function after treatment,
and if you’ll have to change your normal activities.
Your healthcare provider is the best person to answer your questions. He
or she can tell you what your treatment choices are, how successful they’re
expected to be, and what the risks and side effects are. Your healthcare
provider may advise a specific treatment. Or he or she may offer more
than one, and ask you to decide which one you’d like to use. It
can be hard to make this decision. It is important to take the time you
need to make the best decision for you.
Types of treatment for breast cancer
There are two main kinds of treatment for breast cancer:
Local treatments. These remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in one area of the body.
Surgery and radiation are local treatments.
Systemic treatments. These destroy or control cancer cells throughout the whole body. Chemotherapy
and hormone therapy are systemic treatments.
Treatments are often used together, most often with some type of breast
surgery. This may be called combination therapy. Treatment given before
surgery to help shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove is called
neoadjuvant treatment. Treatment used after surgery to kill any hidden
cancer cells that may be left in the breast is called adjuvant treatment.
Even if there is no sign of cancer, your doctor may still suggest adjuvant
treatment to help lower the risk that cancer may come back or spread.
Types of treatment for breast cancer
Surgery. Surgery is done to remove the tumor from your breast. Surgery is the most
common way to treat breast cancer. In some cases, only the tumor is removed,
and the rest of the breast is left intact. In other cases, the entire
breast is removed. Your doctor may also use surgery to see if the cancer
has spread to the lymph nodes under your arm. Knowing if the cancer has
spread can help you and your doctor make decisions about other types of
treatment you may need after surgery. After a breast is removed, surgery
may be used to reconstruct a breast. This can be done with either your
own tissue or an implant.
Radiation therapy. This type of therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. This
treatment can be used to shrink a tumor before surgery. Or it may be used
after surgery to kill cancer cells that may remain in the breast or chest
area. Radiation may also be used to treat tumors in other areas of the body.
Chemotherapy. This treatment uses powerful medicines to kill cancer cells all through
the body. It may be used to shrink a tumor before surgery. Or it may be
used to kill any cancer cells that remain after local treatments. Chemotherapy
may also treat tumors that have grown in other places in the body. Breast
cancer that has spread is usually treated with chemotherapy. It may be
used with hormone therapy.
Hormone therapy. This treatment stops the growth of cancer cells that rely on certain hormones.
It can be delivered in 2 ways. One way to get hormone therapy is with
medicines, such as tamoxifen. Another way is by removing the ovaries,
which make hormones. Hormone therapy may be used after surgery to decrease
the chance of breast cancer coming back, or a new cancer growing. It can
also be used to treat cancer that has spread. It’s sometimes used
Targeted therapy. This treatment uses medicines that target the changes in a cancer cell
that make a tumor grow and spread. These medicines either destroy or slow
the growth of cancer cells. The medicines tend to have fewer side effects
that are less severe. The medicine trastuzumab may be used for some types
of breast cancer. It targets the protein HER-2.
Clinical trials for new treatments
Research is ongoing to find more ways to treat breast cancer. These new
methods are tested in clinical trials. Talk with your healthcare provider
to find out if there are any clinical trials you should consider.
Talking with your healthcare providers
At first, thinking about treatment options may seem overwhelming. Talk
with your doctors, nurses, and loved ones. Make a list of questions. Consider
the benefits and possible side effects of each option. Discuss your concerns
with your healthcare providers before making a decision.