Breast cancer treatments are getting better all the time, and people have many more options today than ever before. With so many choices, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about the ones that can help you the most.
No matter which ones you choose, all breast cancer treatments have two main goals:
WebMD senior writer Miranda Hitti interviewed breast cancer survivors as part of a series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The series, called “Me & the Girls,” explores the personal stories of these women after they were diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast cancer survivor Ilene Smith, MS, RD, 49, lives in the New York area. In late October 2007, Smith felt a lump in her left breast while on a conference call for work. "I got cold, and so I put my hand under my arm, and I felt the...
To rid the body of as much of the cancer as possible
To prevent the disease from coming back
How Do I Know Which Breast Cancer Treatment to Choose?
Your doctor will think about a few things before she recommends a treatment for you:
The type of breast cancer you have
The size of your tumor and how far the cancer has spread in your body, called the stage of your disease
If your tumor has things called "receptors" for HER2 protein, estrogen, and progesterone, or other specific features.
Your age, if you’ve gone through menopause, other health conditions you have, and your personal preferences also play a role in this decision-making process.
What Are the Types of Breast Cancer Treatment?
Some treatments remove or destroy the disease within the breast and nearby tissues, such as lymph nodes. These include:
Surgery to remove the whole breast, called a mastectomy, or to remove just the tumor and tissues around it, called a lumpectomy or breast-conserving surgery. There are different types of mastectomies and lumpectomies.
Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy waves to kill cancer cells.
Other treatments destroy or control cancer cells all over the body:
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. As these powerful medicines fight the disease, they also can cause side effects, like nausea, hair loss, early menopause, hot flashes, and fatigue.
Hormone therapy uses drugs to prevent hormones, especially estrogen, from fueling the growth of breast cancer cells. Medicines include tamoxifen (Nolvadex, Soltamox) for women before and after menopause and anastrozole (Arimidex), exemestane (Aromasin), and letrozole (Femara) for postmenopausal women. Side effects can include hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Some types of this therapy work by stopping the ovaries from making hormones, either through surgery or medication.
Targeted therapy such as lapatinib (Tykerb), pertuzumab (Perjeta), and trastuzumab (Herceptin). These medicines prompt the body's immune system to destroy cancer. They target breast cancer cells that have high levels of a protein called HER2. Palbociclib (Ibrance) works by blocking a molecule that promotes cancer growth. Along with letrozole, palbociclib is for postmenopausal women with certain types of advanced cancer.
You might get chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy along with surgery or radiation. They can kill any cancer cells that were left behind by other treatments.