With stage II breast cancer, the cancer is still contained within the breast and (in some cases) in nearby lymph nodes. Many treatments may help. The five-year survival rate for women with stage II cancer is estimated to be about 74% - 81%. It may be higher. This doesn't mean that these women will only live five years. Doctors just measure success rates for cancer treatment by seeing how women are doing five to 10 years after treatment. As with stage I cancer, you would likely use a combination of treatments.
Surgery for stage II breast cancer is standard. For smaller tumors, you might get a lumpectomy, in which only the tumor and some of the surrounding tissue are removed. For larger tumors, you might need a mastectomy, in which the entire breast is removed. In either case, the surgeon will likely remove some of the lymph nodes. After a mastectomy, you might get breast reconstruction surgery.
Radiation therapy is standard for women who get a lumpectomy. It can kill cancer cells that were missed during surgery. Some women with stage II cancer who get a mastectomy will also need radiation, especially if the tumor was large.
Chemotherapy is often used after breast cancer surgery. This treatment can destroy remaining cancer cells that were missed. Chemotherapy may also be used as neoadjuvant therapy -- treatment before surgery to shrink a tumor. If it works, the tumor might then be small enough to remove in a lumpectomy.
Hormone therapy is sometimes used after surgery in women who have hormone receptor-positive cancer. In these women, medicines can prevent the tumor from getting the hormone it needs to grow. These drugs include tamoxifen for premenopausal or postmenopausal women and aromatase inhibitors like Arimidex, Aromasin, and Femara for postmenopausal women. Women who haven't reached menopause may consider having their ovaries removed to stop them from making hormones that help cancer grow. They also can take a drug, such as Lupron or Zoladex, to stop the ovaries from secreting hormones.
Biological therapy is a newer approach. In about 25% of women with breast cancer, an excess of a protein known as HER2 makes the cancer spread quickly. Herceptin is a new drug that's been approved to treat women with metastatic breast cancer that is HER2-positive. It stops this protein from making the cancer grow and helps makes chemotherapy more effective. It is most often used in combination with chemotherapy.
Clinical trials are open to many women with stage II breast cancer. A clinical trial may allow you access to cutting-edge treatments. Many new therapies -- new drugs, new treatments, and new combinations -- are in clinical trials now. Keep in mind that any successful treatment we have now started out in a clinical trial.
American Cancer Society.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology, Breast Cancer, v.1.2004.
National Cancer Institute: "Breast Cancer PDQ: Treatment, Health Professional Version," "Breast Cancer PDQ: Treatment, Patient Version," "Understanding Breast Cancer: A Guide for Patients," and "What You Need to Know about Breast Cancer."