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Surgery is usually the first step in treating early breast cancer. You may have a mastectomy (the entire breast is removed) or a lumpectomy (only the tumor and some surrounding tissue are removed). With either type of surgery, some lymph nodes in the underarm area (called axillary nodes) may be removed to find out whether the cancer has spread there.
Women who choose a lumpectomy will also have radiation therapy to the breast to get rid of any cancer cells that may remain. This lowers the chances of the cancer coming back .
Most women who have a mastectomy do not need radiation therapy. In some cases, radiation therapy is used after mastectomy to treat the chest wall and the axillary nodes.
Learn more about mastectomy and lumpectomy.
Learn more about radiation therapy.
For a summary of research studies on mastectomy versus lumpectomy plus radiation therapy and overall survival in early breast cancer, visit the Breast Cancer Research section.
For a summary of research studies on radiation therapy following mastectomy in women with stage II or III breast cancer, visit the Breast Cancer Research section.
Treatment after surgery (adjuvant therapy, systemic therapy)
Some combination of chemotherapy, hormone therapy and/or targeted therapy with trastuzumab (Herceptin), almost always follows breast surgery. These treatments are often called adjuvant therapy because they are in addition to (an adjunct to) surgery. Because these drug therapies (either in IV or pill form) travel throughout the body, they are also called systemic therapy. These treatments help ensure the body is completely rid of cancer. It is uncommon to have surgery as the only treatment.
Which treatments you will need after surgery depends on:
For women, whether you are pre- or postmenopausal can also play a role in treatment choices.
Learn more about factors that affect treatment options.
Learn more about chemotherapy.
Learn more about hormone therapy.
Learn more about trastuzumab (Herceptin).
For a summary of research studies on chemotherapy and early breast cancer, visit the Breast Cancer Research section.
For a summary of research studies on tamoxifen in women with hormone receptor-positive early breast cancer, visit the Breast Cancer Research section.
For a summary of studies on trastuzumab (Herceptin) and early breast cancer, visit the Breast Cancer Research section.
For some women with large tumors, chemotherapy or hormone therapy may be used before surgery (called neoadjuvant or pre-operative therapy). Neoadjuvant therapy can shrink a large tumor enough so that a lumpectomy becomes an option to a mastectomy.
For those with HER2/neu-positive breast cancer, trastuzumab (Herceptin) may be included in neoadjuvant chemotherapy . .
Learn more about neoadjuvant therapy.
For a summary of studies on neoadjuvant chemotherapy in women with stage II or stage III breast cancer, visit the Breast Cancer Research section.
For a summary of studies on neoadjuvant hormone therapy for women with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer, visit the Breast Cancer Research section.
Facts for Life: What is Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer 101
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