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Breast Cancer - Treatment Overview

When making decisions about treatment, you and your doctor will consider many things, such as your age and health, the type of breast cancer you have, and how likely it is to spread.

Breast cancer is usually treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy.

Types of treatment

  • Surgery to remove the cancer. This may be done by removing the whole breast camera.gif (mastectomy) or just the part of the breast camera.gif that contains the breast cancer (lumpectomy). Some of the lymph nodes under the arm may also be removed.
  • Radiation therapy, which is the use of high-dose X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors.
  • Chemotherapy, which is the use of medicine to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is called a systemic treatment, because the medicines enter the bloodstream, travel through the body, and can destroy cancer cells outside the target area.
  • Hormone therapy with tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor, to change the way hormones in the body cause cancer growth.
  • Targeted therapy with medicines that go directly to the cancer cells, such as trastuzumab (Herceptin).

In some cases, chemotherapy or hormone therapy is used before surgery to shrink the breast cancer. This may mean that less breast tissue has to be removed during surgery.

Depending on the tumor's size and whether cancer has spread to your lymph nodes, you may have several treatment options. Hormone therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of the two treatments may be used after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells. This also lowers the chances that the cancer will come back. Your doctor may suggest gene tests to find out if chemotherapy will help.

For women with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), surgery is the standard treatment. But researchers are trying to find out which women might be good candidates for active surveillance. These women might be able to safely avoid or delay surgery.

Side effects of treatment

Treatments can have side effects, such as nausea and vomiting and hair loss. For more information on how to manage side effects, see Home Treatment.

Additional information about breast cancer is provided by the National Cancer Institute at

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