Overview of Breast Cancer Treatment Options

The Five Types of Breast Cancer Treatments

Breast Cancer Patient having Chemotherapy Treatment
Breast cancer treatment options. Justin Paget / Getty Images

After your breast cancer has been diagnosed and staged, your healthcare team will recommend treatment. Your treatment plan will be based on the type of breast cancer you have; the size, grade, and biological characteristics of the tumor; your hormonal status; and your general health.

There are five standard treatment options: surgery and radiation (typically used for local control of cancer within the breast and lymph nodes) and chemo, biologic, and hormonal therapies (usually reserved for control of potential disease in the rest of the body).

1) Surgery

The goals of breast cancer surgery are to remove the cancerous tissue, and to analyze it for type, grade, size, hormonal status, and possible metastasis. Prevention of breast cancer recurrence is your surgeon’s top priority. You will have some choices about which kind of surgery to have, depending on the tumor size and location. If you have a mastectomy, reconstruction may also be an option.

Diagnostic surgery is done to determine if cancer is actually present, and if it has spread. Procedures include:

Standard therapeutic surgeries, those used to remove cancer, are:

2) Radiation

DNA is the coding that serves as the programming for all of the body's processes and characteristics. Cancer cells grow in an unorganized and uncontrolled way as a result of glitches in DNA.

Radiation therapy works by causing severe damage to that abnormal DNA, disrupting growth signals and preventing cell division. Healthy cells that surround the cancer can survive the radiation, with some side effects. Radiation technology is improving, becoming more targeted and effective.

There are two main types of radiation therapy:

3) Chemotherapy

Cancer is uncontrolled cell growth, and chemotherapy targets rapidly diving cells throughout your body. Chemotherapy is considered systemic therapy because, like systemic (metastatic) cancer, it goes everywhere in your body's systems. Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells and prevent recurrence. Chemo may be used in all stages of breast cancer. Though commonly used for those in stage two, three, or four, many stage one patients who can benefit from this therapy can be identified.

Schedules and types of chemotherapy:

  • Adjuvant or neoadjuvant
  • Stem cell and bone marrow transplant

Most common drugs used:

Life during chemo can involve:

4) Targeted (Biologic) Therapies

These therapies are designed to disrupt those processes that contribute to the continued growth of cancer cells. Such therapies include:

5) Hormonal Therapy

Breast cancers are frequently dependent on estrogen for their growth.

Anti-estrogen hormone therapy starves tumor cells of the estrogen they need to grow, resulting in cancer cell death. This type of therapy may be delivered before surgery, or concurrently with radiation. You may need to take hormonal therapy for five years after you're finished with primary treatment to prevent recurrence.

Hormone therapies can include:

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