Breast Cancer Overview

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Treating Breast Cancer TOPICS

How is breast cancer treated?

This information represents the views of the doctors and nurses serving on the American Cancer Society's Cancer Information Database Editorial Board. These views are based on their interpretation of studies published in medical journals, as well as their own professional experience.
The treatment information provided here is not official policy of the Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.
Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don't hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

General types of treatment

The main types of treatment for breast cancer are:

Treatments can be put into broad groups based on how they work and when they are used. It is important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. It’s also very important to ask questions if there is anything you’re not sure about. You can find some good questions to ask in the section “What should you ask your doctor about breast cancer?

Adjuvant and neoadjuvant therapy

When people who seem to have no cancer left after surgery are given more treatment it is called adjuvant therapy. Doctors know that cancer cells can break away from the main tumor and begin to spread through the bloodstream in the early stages of the disease. It’s very hard to tell if this has happened. But if it has, the cancer cells can start new tumors in other organs or in the bones. The goal of adjuvant therapy is to kill these hidden cells. Both systemic therapy (like chemo, hormone treatment, and targeted therapy) and radiation can be used as adjuvant therapy. But not every patient needs adjuvant therapy.

Some people are given systemic treatment or radiation before surgery to shrink a tumor. This is called neoadjuvant therapy.

Last Medical Review: 09/09/2014
Last Revised: 06/10/2015