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Stage I Breast Cancer Treatment Options

In this early stage, the cancer either hasn't spread beyond the breast or has spread in a very small amount to a lymph node. You have a number of treatments to choose from. Women usually do well with a combination of treatments.


Surgery is standard treatment for this stage. Since the tumor is small, you may have a lumpectomy -- just the tumor and some of the tissue around it are removed. Some women get a mastectomy, in which the whole breast is removed. In either case, the surgeon will likely take out one or more lymph nodes. After a mastectomy, you might choose to have breast reconstruction surgery.

Radiation therapy can kill cancer cells that were missed. It’s usually given after a lumpectomy. Women with stage I cancer who get a mastectomy sometimes need radiation, too.

Chemotherapy after surgery can lower the risk of the cancer coming back. The drugs attack cancer cells. Women who had larger tumors removed are more likely to get chemo.

You can get chemo several ways. You may take pills or liquids, but often the drugs are put right into your veins. The treatment is usually given in cycles that allow your body breaks in between.

Hormone therapy is a good option after surgery for women who have tumors that use hormones to grow, called hormone receptor-positive cancer. Medication can help prevent tumors from getting hormones. These drugs include tamoxifen for all women, and anastrozole (Arimidex), exemestane (Aromasin), and letrozole (Femara) for postmenopausal women.

Women who haven't reached menopause may consider having their ovaries removed to stop making hormones that help cancer grow.

Targeted therapy is a newer treatment. About 20% of women with breast cancer have too much of a protein known as HER2, and it makes the cancer spread quickly. Trastuzumab (Herceptin) is a drug that's been approved to treat women with HER2-positive cancer. It stops this protein from making the cancer grow and makes some chemotherapy more effective.

Clinical trials are something else to consider. They’re open to many women with stage I cancer, and they may allow you access to cutting-edge treatments. Talk to your doctor to find out more about them.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 23, 2015

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