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Breast Cancer Health Center

Understanding Breast Cancer -- Diagnosis & Treatment

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What Are the Treatments for Breast Cancer?

If you have breast cancer, the earlier you can get treatment, the better. But before you decide what to do, research your options. Ask questions of your doctor, other specialists, and people who’ve had breast cancer. Find a doctor you trust, and don't feel you have to rush to make a choice. A brief delay between diagnosis and treatment won’t make your therapy less effective.

The treatment options for breast cancer depend on the size of your tumor and how far it has spread in your body, your age, and how healthy you are. 

Surgery for Breast Cancer

For most people, the first step is to remove breast cancer with surgery, followed usually by some mix of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy. 

Modified Radical Masectomy

The standard surgery for breast cancer used to be the removal of the entire breast and lymph nodes nearby, called a modified radical mastectomy. But today, many women who find breast cancer before it has spread can remove just the lump. This operation, called a lumpectomy, has proven to work just as well as a mastectomy, and the physical changes it causes are much less drastic. After this type of surgery, most women also get radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy.

For breast cancer that has spread in the body and for disease that has come back after treatment, surgery usually isn’t the main treatment option.

Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

This treatment uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells. Your doctor might recommend it after you have surgery to kill any remaining cancer that the operation left behind. It helps reduce the chance that breast cancer will come back.

If your tumor is large, you might get chemotherapy before surgery to shrink it so it’s easier to remove.

Chemotherapy or hormone therapy are the main treatments for women whose cancer has spread to parts of the body outside of the breast and lymph nodes.

Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

In this treatment, high-energy waves destroy cancer cells. Doctors usually give radiation therapy after a lumpectomy and sometimes after a mastectomy to reduce the risk of cancer coming back in the same breast. The treatments generally start a few weeks after the surgery so the area has some time to heal. They can last for several days or a few weeks. If your doctor recommends chemotherapy along with radiation therapy, you’ll have the chemo first.

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