Breast cancer treatments differ depending on the patient and their diagnosis. The aim of treatment is to stop the spread of cancer and to ideally remove all cancer from the patient’s body.
A doctor will discuss the best treatment options with their patient before proceeding. This can be a daunting experience. Patients may often need to take a week or two to consider their options.
The main treatments for breast cancer are:
There are two main types of breast cancer surgery:
Breast conserving surgery (removal of part of the breast) or
Mastectomy (removal of complete breast)
Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. The aim of radiotherapy is to destroy cancer cells without damaging healthy cells.
It is often used after surgery to reduce the risk of cancer returning (adjuvant therapy). Radiotherapy is always used for patients who opt for breast conserving surgery.
Radiotherapy can be given externally (external beam radiation) or internally (brachytherapy). External radiotherapy is most common.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to control or cure cancer. It is one of the main types of drug treatments used for breast cancer. Chemotherapy can be given to a patient before (neoadjuvant treatment) or after (adjuvant treatment) surgery. It can be given as an injection, through a drip (intravenous infusion) or in tablet form. It is often given to a patient in cycles with rest periods between treatments. Treatment time varies from four to six months.
Hormone therapy uses hormones that can make cancer cells grow at a slower pace, stop them from growing and in some cases the therapy can completely kill cancer cells. It can be given before (neoadjuvant therapy) or after (adjuvant therapy) surgery. It is usually given after surgery to prevent the cancer from returning.
These options may be used alone or as a combination to treat breast cancer. Surgery and radiotherapy are known as local treatments because they treat only the area where the cancer has occurred. Chemotherapy and hormone therapy are called systemic treatments because they treat the whole body.
Treatment options are chosen based on a number of factors such as: age, general health and the type and size of the tumour. Each patient will be given the treatment that is right for them.