When making decisions about treatment, you and your doctor will consider many things, such as your age and health, the type of breast cancer you have, and how likely it is to spread.
Breast cancer is usually treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy.
Types of treatment
- Surgery to remove the cancer. This may be
done by removing the whole breast (mastectomy) or
just the part of the breast that contains the breast cancer (lumpectomy). Some of the lymph nodes under the arm
may also be removed.
- Radiation therapy, which is the use of high-dose
X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors.
- Chemotherapy, which is the use of medicine to destroy
cancer cells. Chemotherapy is called a systemic treatment, because the
medicines enter the bloodstream, travel through the body, and can destroy
cancer cells outside the target area.
- Hormone therapy with
tamoxifen or an
aromatase inhibitor, to change the way hormones in the
body cause cancer growth.
- Targeted therapy with medicines that go directly to the cancer cells, such as trastuzumab (Herceptin).
In some cases, chemotherapy or hormone therapy is used before surgery to shrink the breast cancer. This may mean that less breast tissue has to be removed during surgery.
Depending on the tumor's size and whether cancer has spread to your lymph nodes, you may have several treatment options. Hormone therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of the two treatments may be used after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells. This also lowers the chances that the cancer will come back. Your doctor may suggest gene tests to find out if chemotherapy will help.
Side effects of treatment
Treatments can have side effects, such as nausea and vomiting and hair loss. For more information on how to manage side effects, see Home Treatment.
Additional information about breast cancer is provided by the National Cancer Institute at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/breast.
Coping with emotions
When you first find out that you have cancer, you may feel scared or angry. Or you may feel very calm. It's normal to have a wide range of feelings and for those feelings to change quickly. Some people find that it helps to talk about their feelings with family and friends.
If your emotional reaction to cancer gets in the way of your ability to make decisions about your health, it's important to talk with your doctor. Your cancer treatment center may offer psychological or financial services. And a local chapter of the American Cancer Society can help you find a support group.
Having cancer can change your life in many ways. For support in managing these changes, see the topic
Getting Support When You Have Cancer.
Body image and sexual problems
Your feelings about your body may change
after treatment for breast cancer. Managing body image issues may involve talking openly about your concerns with your partner and discussing your feelings with your doctor. Your doctor may be able to refer you to groups that can offer support and information.
Sexual problems can be caused by the physical or emotional effects of cancer or its treatment. Some women may feel less sexual pleasure or lose their desire to be intimate. For more information, see the topic Sexual Problems in Women.
After the initial treatment for
breast cancer, you may see your
radiation oncologist, or
surgeon at regularly scheduled intervals, depending on
your individual situation. Your checkups will happen less often as time goes by.
As part of your follow-up, you may have regular physical exams and mammograms.
It's also important to do
regular self-exams. That way, if the cancer does come back, you have a better chance of finding it early enough for successful treatment. Early signs
of recurrence may appear in the incision area itself, the opposite breast,
under your arm, or in the area above the collarbone.
problems develop, you may have additional tests, such as blood tests,
CT scans, or
If your breast cancer tested positive for estrogen and progesterone receptors, your doctor may prescribe medicines that can lower your risk of the cancer coming back. For more information, see Medications.
information about the treatment of metastatic or recurrent breast cancer, see
Breast Cancer, Metastatic or Recurrent.