breast cancer treatment options

Treatment options for breast cancer vary widely among patients and are based on the stage of cancer, tumor size, and type of cancer. Each person is different, and so is their cancer diagnosis. Your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan based on your personal diagnosis.

You will likely have some combination of the following treatments:

Breast Cancer Chemotherapy and Hormone Therapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill the cancer cells or stop them from dividing. It can be given by mouth, as an injection, or as an infusion. The drugs used vary depending on the type of breast cancer, such as the hormone receptor status.

In certain types of cancer, hormones can cause the cancer to grow. Hormone therapy removes hormones or blocks them from acting. Tamoxifen, an antiestrogen, blocks the effects of estrogen on the cancer cells and is commonly given as hormone therapy in early-stage breast cancer.

Aromatase inhibitors are another type of hormone therapy that prevents androgen from turning into estrogen. This is given to women whose cancer needs estrogen to grow.

Breast Cancer Surgery

Most patients have surgery to remove the tumor, tissue around the tumor, or lymph nodes under the arm. You may receive chemotherapy before surgery to shrink the tumor.

Breast cancer surgery options range from the removal of the tumor and a small amount of tissue, called a lumpectomy, to removal of the whole breast, called mastectomy. The type of surgery suggested depends on how much the cancer has spread and your risk of recurrence.

To help the surgeon determine how much to remove, he or she may perform a sentinel lymph node biopsy. This is the removal of the first lymph node that receives drainage from the tumor. The physician will check the tissue for cancer cells to determine whether the cancer has spread.

Breast reconstruction surgery may also be performed at the time of a mastectomy. The breast can be rebuilt using your own tissue or using implants.

Breast Cancer Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. The goal of radiation is to target the tumor as specifically as possible and avoid damaging the surrounding healthy tissue as much as possible.

As with surgery and chemotherapy, the type of radiation, dose, and length of treatment depends on the tumor size and location.

Targeted Therapy for Breast Cancer

As researchers understand more about the differences in breast cancers, more targeted therapies are becoming available. These treatment options use drugs to kill or block specific cancer cells and spare the healthy cells. Targeted drugs may be used in combination with chemotherapy or other treatment options.

Your doctor can explain the risks and benefits of each treatment option and how they work for your diagnosis to develop a tailored care plan.

To learn more about cancer treatment options and customized treatment plans, visit the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center website.