Treating Breast Cancer
This section discusses treatment for early and locally-advanced breast cancers (stages I, II and III). This includes invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma.
Learn about treatment for ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).
Learn about treatment for metastatic breast cancer.
Breast cancer treatment
The goal of treating early and locally-advanced breast cancers is to get rid of the cancer and keep it from coming back.
Treatment includes some combination of:
These treatments are designed to remove the cancer from the breast and destroy any cancer that might still be in the body.
Your breast cancer treatment plan
Your breast cancer treatment plan is based on both medical and personal choices. Together, you and your health care provider make treatment decisions.
After you get a recommended treatment plan from your provider, take time to study your treatment options. Talk to those closest to you. Consider getting a second opinion.
Make thoughtful, informed decisions that are best for you. Each treatment option has risks and benefits to consider along with your own values and lifestyle.
Your treatment is tailored to:
- Your specific breast cancer (the biology of the tumor)
- The stage of the breast cancer
- Your overall health, age and other medical issues
- Your personal preferences
Because of the differences between tumors and between people, your treatment plan may differ from someone else’s, even though you both have breast cancer.
Breast cancer treatment can be divided into local and systemic therapy.
Local therapy removes the cancer from a limited (local) area, such as the breast, chest wall and lymph nodes in the underarm area. It also helps ensure the cancer doesn’t come back to that area.
Systemic therapy (adjuvant therapy)
Systemic therapy aims to get rid of cancer cells that may have spread from the breast to other parts of the body. These cells are too small to see on scans or to measure with lab tests.
Some drug therapies are given by vein (through an IV) or injection, and some are pills.
Because systemic therapy is used in addition to (an adjunct to) breast surgery, these treatments are often called adjuvant therapy.
Learn about factors that affect treatment options.
How age affects your treatment plan
Your overall health and other health conditions also play a role. For example, if you have heart disease, some medications used to treat breast cancer can do more harm than good.
All of these things, as well as your age, are considered when planning your treatment.
Young women with breast cancer may have special concerns about early menopause and loss of fertility due to treatment.
Learn about issues for young women with breast cancer.
Managing side effects and supportive care
Managing side effects and supportive care are important parts of breast cancer treatment.
- Symptom management aims to prevent or relieve side effects (such as pain or nausea). This is also known as palliative care.
- Supportive care includes symptom management as well as care of your emotional, social, spiritual and practical needs.
The importance of following your breast cancer treatment plan
Completing your breast cancer treatment plan (called adherence or compliance) is important. People who complete the full course of treatment have a higher chance of survival.
Sometimes completing your treatment plan is hard, but there are things you can do to make it easier.
Tell your health care providers right away if you have any side effects. They may be able to help. Having fewer side effects can help you complete your treatment plan.
Sticking to your plan can be hard for long-term treatments, such as hormone therapy. Planning ahead can help.
For example, if you have trouble remembering to take your medicine, a daily pillbox or setting an alarm on your watch or mobile device (you may be able to download an app) may help .
Learn more about the importance of following your breast cancer treatment plan.
Your health care team
Throughout your treatment and beyond, you’ll get care from many health care providers. Your health care team may include:
- Doctors involved in cancer treatment (medical oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists)
- Doctors involved in other care for people with breast cancer (radiologists, pathologists, palliative care or pain specialists, and others)
- Genetic counselors
- Social workers
- Physical therapists
- Patient navigators
- Other providers
They may be involved in your care throughout diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
Learn about choosing a doctor.
It may be helpful to use a notebook, 3-ring binder or other organizer to keep track of your breast cancer treatments and health care team.
You may want to include:
Insurance issues and financial assistance
Insurance issues (such as what to do if a claim is denied) can be a major concern while you’re being treated for breast cancer.
Paying for medications and other out-of-pocket expenses can also be a burden.
Learn about insurance and financial assistance programs.
Transportation, lodging, child care and elder care assistance
If you need help getting to and from treatments or if you (or your family) need a place to stay overnight while you’re getting treatment, there are programs that can help.
There are also programs to help with the cost of child care and elder care while you’re undergoing treatment.
Susan G. Komen®’s Breast Care Helpline:
Calls to our Breast Care Helpline are answered by a trained and caring staff member Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET. Our helpline provides free, professional support services to anyone who has questions or concerns about breast cancer, including people diagnosed with breast cancer and their families.
You can also email the helpline at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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