What Are the Treatment Options for Breast Cancer?

Being diagnosed with breast cancer can feel devastating for women. While it is a difficult diagnosis, there are many treatment options available. Research in the last two decades has shown that there are ways to treat breast cancer in many cases, even without chemotherapy. 

A treatment team for breast cancer might include a breast surgeon or a surgical oncologist. A radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, and plastic surgeon may be part of a team of treatment providers, as can other specialists. 

The following briefly provides an overview of some of the ways breast cancer is treated and what to know. 

Key Points About Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is when malignant cancer cells form in the tissue of the breasts. If you have a family history, you may be at greater risk of developing breast cancer. Signs of this type of cancer can include a change in the breast or a lump. 

The breast is made up of ducts and lobes, and each breast has lymph and blood vessels. 

The most commonly diagnosed type of breast cancer is called ductal carcinoma, which starts in the duct cells. If cancer begins in the lobes or lobules of the breast, it’s locular carcinoma. An uncommon type of breast cancer is called inflammatory breast cancer, leading the breast to be swollen, red and warm. 

The treatment options are based on the stage of cancer and the type of cancer. Other factors that play a role include estrogen and progesterone receptor levels in the tissue of the tumor, how fast the tumor is growing, someone’s general health, and how likely a tumor is to come back. 


Many patients with breast cancer will have surgery to remove it. 

There are different types of surgery. 

One is breast-conserving surgery, which is an operation where the surgeon removes cancer and also some of the normal tissue that surrounds it, but not the actual breast. If the cancer is  the close to the chest wall lining, part of that might be removed. 

In a total mastectomy, the whole breast with cancer is removed. 


With radiation therapy, high-energy x-rays or other forms of radiation are used to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There is both external and internal radiation therapy. 

The type of radiation and the way it’s administered depends on the stage of the cancer and the type. 


Chemotherapy is a treatment that’s used to either kill cancerous cells or prevent them from rapidly dividing. Chemotherapy can be taken orally or injected into a muscle or vein. The chemotherapy drugs, once administered, go into the bloodstream, and they can reach cancer cells throughout the entire body, which is known as systemic chemotherapy. 

Hormone Therapy

With hormone therapy as a cancer treatment, hormones are either removed or they’re blocked. That can stop cancer cells from growing. There are some types of hormones that can cause cancer to grow, including estrogen. 

If someone has early and localized breast cancer, they might be given tamoxifen following surgery. 

Some postmenopausal women may be treated with an aromatase inhibitor, which decreases estrogen levels by preventing the aromatase enzyme from turning androgen into estrogen. 

Targeted Therapy

There’s a lot of innovation going on as far as targeted therapy for cancer, including breast cancer. 

Targeted therapy uses drugs and different substances to identify and then attack certain cancer cells. 

There’s less harm to normal, healthy cells than there is with chemo or radiation. There are several types of targeted therapies that are used for breast cancer treatment. 

For example, one option is monoclonal antibodies. These are immune system proteins that are lab-made to treat a range of diseases, including cancer. 

A monoclonal antibody attaches to a particular target on a cancer cell and then kills the cell, blocks it from growing, or keeps it from spreading. 

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors block the signals a tumor would need to grow, and they can be used with other drugs as well. 

Cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors block proteins that cause cancer cells to grow. 


Finally, with immunotherapy, your own immune system is used to combat your cancer. There are substances made by your body or in a lab that can boost or restore your natural defenses against your cancer. Immunotherapy is also known as biological therapy. 

There are a lot of clinical trials happening for breast cancer too, and for some patients, this is the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are a key part of cancer research, and they’re done to identify safer and more effective treatments than what’s currently available. A lot of the treatments used for breast cancer currently are based on previous clinical trials. 

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