What are the different treatment options for breast cancer?

Treatment for breast cancer will vary for each person. Doctors consider the specific  characteristics of a patient and their breast cancer in recommending a treatment plan, so what is best for one person may not be best for another. Treatments fall into two general categories:

Local therapies are treatments that are aimed directly at the tumor or area where cancer is identified. The most common forms of local therapies are surgery and radiation.

Systemic therapies are drugs that are intended to kill any cancer cells that may have possibly travelled elsewhere in the body. These drugs work throughout the body by traveling through the bloodstream. Chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy are all types of systemic treatments.

In what order are different treatments given?

Usually, surgery is the first treatment for breast cancer. If a tumour is quite large, chemotherapy is often given before surgery in order to shrink it.

After surgery, it is likely that you will receive some additional therapy, which is called adjuvant therapy. This can be chemotherapy, radiation, hormonal therapy or targeted therapies such as the drug Herceptin (or any combination of them). These treatments are intended to kill any residual cancer cells that may be left after surgery, and reduce the chance of a recurrence of cancer.

How is it determined which treatment option is best for me?

The details in your pathology report help the doctor determine which treatment options will work best for you. Your doctor will also consider your personal characteristics, such as:

  • Your age
  • Your general health
  • Whether you’ve been through menopause

Links to more information

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Understanding Treatment for Breast Cancer: A Guide for Women
Canadian Cancer Society

Treatment and Side Effects

Breast Cancer Treatment
National Cancer Institute

Making Treatment Choices