Women with breast cancer have many treatment options. The treatment that’s best for one woman may not be best for another.
The options are surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. You may receive more than one type of treatment. The treatment options are described below.
Surgery and radiation therapy are types of local therapy. They remove or destroy cancer in the breast.
Hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy are types of systemic therapy. The drug enters the bloodstream and destroys or controls cancer throughout the body.
The treatment that’s right for you depends mainly on the stage of the cancer, the results of the hormone receptor tests, the result of the HER2/neu test, and your general health.
You may want to talk with your doctor about taking part in a clinical trial, a research study of new treatment methods. Clinical trials are an important option for women at any stage of breast cancer.
Your doctor can describe your treatment choices, the expected results, and the possible side effects. Because cancer therapy often damages healthy cells and tissues, side effects are common. Before treatment starts, ask your health care team about possible side effects, how to prevent or reduce these effects, and how treatment may change your normal activities.
You may want to know how you will look during and after treatment. You and your health care team can work together to develop a treatment plan that meets your medical and personal needs.
Your doctor may refer you to a specialist, or you may ask for a referral. Specialists who treat breast cancer include surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists. You also may be referred to a plastic surgeon or reconstructive surgeon. Your health care team may also include an oncology nurse and a registered dietitian
Surgery is the most common treatment for breast cancer. Your doctor can explain each type, discuss and compare the benefits and risks, and describe how each will change the way you look:
Breast-sparing surgery: This is an operation to remove the cancer but not the breast. It’s also called breast-conserving surgery. It can be a lumpectomy or a segmental mastectomy (also called a partial mastectomy). Sometimes an excisional biopsy is the only surgery a woman needs because the surgeon removed the whole lump.
Mastectomy: This is an operation to remove the entire breast (or as much of the breast tissue as possible). In some cases, a skin-sparing mastectomy may be an option. For this approach, the surgeon removes as little skin as possible.
The surgeon usually removes one or more lymph nodes from under the arm to check for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes, other cancer treatments will be needed.
You may choose to have breast reconstruction. This is plastic surgery to rebuild the shape of the breast. It may be done at the same time as the cancer surgery or later. If you’re considering breast reconstruction, you may wish to talk with a plastic surgeon before having cancer surgery.
In breast-sparing surgery, the surgeon removes the cancer in the breast and some normal tissue around it. The surgeon may also remove lymph nodes under the arm. The surgeon sometimes removes some of the lining over the chest muscles below the tumor.
In total (simple) mastectomy, the surgeon removes the whole breast. Some lymph nodes under the arm may also be removed.
In modified radical mastectomy, the surgeon removes the whole breast and most or all of the lymph nodes under the arm. Often, the lining over the chest muscles is removed. A small chest muscle also may be taken out to make it easier to remove the lymph nodes.
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