The goal of treating early breast cancer is to get rid of the cancer and keep it from coming back.
Breast cancer treatment can be divided into two parts: local and systemic.
Local therapy removes the cancer from a limited (local) area, such as the breast, chest wall or lymph nodes in the underarm area. It also helps ensure the cancer doesn’t come back to that area.
Local therapy involves surgery, with or without radiation therapy to the breast area.
The goal of breast cancer surgery is to remove the entire tumor from the breast.
Some of the lymph nodes from the underarm area (axillary nodes) may also be removed to see if cancer cells are present.
There are two basic types of surgery to remove breast cancer:
Learn about deciding between lumpectomy and mastectomy.
Learn about breast reconstruction.
The goal of radiation therapy is to kill any cancer cells that might be left in or around the breast after surgery.
Learn about emerging areas in radiation therapy.
Systemic therapy aims to get rid of cancer cells that may have spread from the breast to other parts of the body.
Systemic therapy uses drug therapies (either by vein (through an IV) or in pill form) that travel throughout the body to get rid of cancer cells. It includes chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy.
Because systemic therapy is used in addition to (an adjunct to) breast surgery, these treatments are often called adjuvant therapy.
Chemotherapy drugs kill or disable cancer cells.
For people with early breast cancer, chemotherapy is usually given after breast surgery, but before radiation therapy.
In women with large tumors who need a mastectomy, chemotherapy may be used before surgery (called neoadjuvant chemotherapy).
Neoadjuvant chemotherapy may shrink the tumor enough that a lumpectomy becomes an option.
Learn about chemotherapy drugs.
Learn about the short-term side effects of chemotherapy.
Learn about the long-term side effects of chemotherapy.
Learn about emerging areas in chemotherapy.
Some breast cancer cells need estrogen and/or progesterone (female hormones) to grow. Hormone therapy slows or stops the growth of these tumors by preventing the cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow.
Hormone therapy is usually given after surgery.
In some postmenopausal women, hormone therapy may be used before surgery (called neoadjuvant hormone therapy) to try and shrink a tumor enough that a lumpectomy becomes an option to a mastectomy.
Learn more about hormone therapies (including tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors).
Learn about emerging areas in hormone therapy.
A targeted therapy is a drug designed to attack a certain molecular agent or pathway involved in the development of cancer.
Unlike chemotherapy, targeted therapies kill cancer cells with little harm to healthy cells.
Learn about emerging areas in targeted therapies.
Learn about factors that affect treatment options.
Learn about financial issues related to treatment.
Learn more about the importance of following your breast cancer treatment plan.
Interactive Treatment Navigation Tool
Breast Cancer 101 - Local Therapy
Breast Cancer 101 - Systemic Therapy
Facts for Life: Making Breast Cancer Treatment Decisions
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