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Breast Cancer Treatment

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There are two major goals of breast cancer treatment:

1) To rid the body of the cancer as completely as possible
2) To prevent cancer from returning

How Is the Type of Breast Cancer Treatment Determined?

The type of breast cancer treatment recommended for you will depend on the size of your tumor, the extent of disease in the lymph nodes and/or throughout your body (the stage), and the overexpression of the HER2 protein and/or endocrine receptors (estrogen and progesterone). Age, menstrual status, underlying health issues, and personal preferences also play a role in this decision-making process.


What Are the Types of Breast Cancer Treatment?

Breast cancer treatments can be local or systemic.

Local treatments are used to remove or destroy the disease within the breast and surrounding regions, such as lymph nodes. These include:

Systemic treatments are used to destroy or control cancer cells all over the body and include:

  • Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Side effects can include nausea, hair loss, early menopause, hot flashes, fatigue, and temporarily lowered blood counts.
  • Hormone therapy (endocrine therapy) such as tamoxifen (Soltamox, Nolvadex) in premenopausal and postmenopausal women and the aromatase inhibitors anastrozole (Arimidex), exemestane (Aromasin), and letrozole (Femara) in postmenopausal women. Hormone therapy uses drugs to prevent hormones, especially estrogen, from promoting the growth of breast cancer cells. Side effects can include hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Production of hormones by the ovaries can also be halted, either through surgery or medication.
  • Biological therapy such as trastuzumab (Herceptin), pertuzumab (Perjeta), or lapatinib (Tykerb), which work by using the body's immune system to destroy cancer cells. These drugs target breast cancer cells that have high levels of a protein called HER2. Palbociclib (Ibrance) works by blocking a molecule that promotes cancer growth. Given with Femara, Ibrance is given to postmenopausal women with certain types of advanced cancer.

Systemic therapy may be given after (adjuvant therapy) or before (neoadjuvant therapy) local treatment. Adjuvant therapy is used after local treatments to kill any cancer cells that may remain in the body but are undetectable. It is also used for people with advanced disease.

You may have just one form of breast cancer treatment or a combination of treatments, depending on your needs. 

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