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Breast Cancer Treatment Facts


When breast cancer is detected at an early stage of development, a number of effective treatment options are available. A woman and her physician will choose the treatment that is right for her, based on the location and extent of the cancer, her age and preferences, and the risks and benefits of each treatment. The basic treatment choices for breast cancer are surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.

Local treatments such as breast surgery and radiation therapy are focused on the breast itself to remove or destroy the cancer cells confined to the breast. Systemic treatments, such as chemotherapy and hormonal therapy, aim to destroy the cancer cells that may have spread throughout the body.

Surgery: Surgery has an important role in breast cancer treatment. Most women can choose between breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy plus radiation) or removal of the breast (mastectomy). Clinical trials have proven that both options provide the same long-term survival rates for most types of early stage breast cancer.

 - Lumpectomy: removes a small tumor and a margin of normal tissue around the tumor. The surgeon also removes some of the lymph nodes under the arm to find out if the cancer has spread. Lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy to destroy and remaining cancer cells is the standard care. A clinical trial on lumpectomy and radiation is currently underway.

 - Modified Radical Mastectomy: is surgery to remove the entire breast, some of the lymph nodes under the arm and the lining over the chest muscles. It may be appropriate when the breast tumor is large or if cancer is found in more than one part of the breast.

 - Radical Mastectomy: involves removal of the breast, chest muscles and all lymph nodes under the arm. It was the standard treatment many years ago, but it us use now only when a tumor has spread to the chest muscles.

 - Radiation: therapy uses high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells. Is is usually used after lumpectomy to destroy and cancer cells that still may remain in the breast after surgery. It is sometimes used to shrink tumors before surgery.

 - Chemotherapy: uses drugs, usually a combination of drugs, that travel through the body to slow the growth of cancer cells or kill them.

 - Hormonal Therapy: prevents cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow. If a breast tumor relies on the body's natural hormones to grow, it is described as estrogen-positive or progesterone-positive. This means that any cancer cells that remain after surgery may continue to grow when these hormones are present in the body. Hormonal therapy can reduce the amount of the body's natural hormones or block the hormones from reaching any remaining cells.

Information on this page has been, in large part, reproduced, with permission, from NBCAM (supported by an unrestricted educational grant from AstraZeneca Healthcare Foundation).





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