How is Breast Cancer Treated?

Many early breast cancers are curable with timely appropriate treatments. For example, the 5-year survival rate for Stage 0 patients is 93%, while the survival rate for Stage IV patients is only 15%. Increased risk assessment and early detection efforts are the best ways to counteract these troubling statistics.

Treatments can be categorized into broad groups based on how they work and at what point they are used. Local treatment is used for tumors without affecting the remainder of the body. Surgery and radiation are examples of local treatment. Systemic treatment is taken orally or through the bloodstream to reach cancer cells that may have spread beyond the breasts. Chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy are systemic treatments.

Some patients are given systemic treatment (most likely chemotherapy) before surgery to shrink a tumor. This process is called neoadjuvant therapy.

Some of the patients who undergo surgery often continue with what is termed adjuvant therapy. Doctors realize that cancer cells can break away from the main tumor and begin to spread through the bloodstream in the early stages of the disease. Determining whether or not this has happened is very difficult. But if the cancer has spread, the cells can start new tumors in other organs or in the bones. The goal of adjuvant therapy is to eliminate these hidden cells. Not every patient needs adjuvant therapy.

General types of treatment for breast cancer include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Bisphosphonates
  • High-dose chemotherapy with bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell transplant
  • Clinical trials
  • Complementary and alternative therapies