Treatment options for all types and stages.

Treating Breast Cancer

Important information about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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

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.

Local therapy involves surgery, with or without radiation therapy to the breast and nearby lymph nodes.

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.

Systemic therapy uses drug therapies that travel throughout the body to get rid of cancer cells. It includes chemotherapy, hormone therapy and HER2-targeted therapy.

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.

What is personalized medicine?

There’s no standard medical definition for personalized medicine (also called precision medicine). So, you may hear this term used in different ways.

In general, personalized medicine describes tailoring (or adapting) the treatment of a disease (such as breast cancer) to give the most effective treatment for each person’s disease.

To do this, health care providers may use information about:

  • Molecular (cell) characteristics of the disease
  • A person’s genes
  • Non-genetic personal characteristics (for example, lifestyle factors)

The importance of personalized medicine

The goal of personalized medicine is to give the most effective treatment for each person’s breast cancer. This involves:

  • Getting the best results, while avoiding unnecessary treatment. All treatments for breast cancer have side effects and other risks. Avoiding unnecessary treatments avoids these side effects and risks.
  • Developing therapies to target specific tumors or specific cellular pathways that lead to tumor growth and identifying the people who will respond best to them.

Learn more about factors that affect treatment and prognosis.

How is treatment personalized?

Although treatment is becoming more personalized, we can’t predict how any one person will respond to a certain treatment.

Treatment is personalized based on the groups a person belongs to (such as people with HER2-positive breast cancers, people with lymph node-positive breast cancers, women who are premenopausal and other groups) rather than to a specific person.

The results of clinical trials show us which therapies are most effective in which groups of people. If a certain therapy is effective in a group you belong to, then your treatment plan can be personalized to include that therapy.

Factors related to the tumor

Breast cancers differ in many ways. Factors related to the tumor give information on prognosis and help personalize treatment to give the most benefit to each person.

Most factors that help personalize treatment are related to the breast cancer itself.

For example, all tumors are tested for:

Learn more about factors that affect treatment and prognosis.

A person’s genes

Whether or not a person has certain inherited gene mutations can guide treatment.

For example, PARP inhibitors are only used to treat metastatic breast cancer in people who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation. They aren’t used to treat people who don’t have a BRCA1/2 gene mutation.

Other personal factors

Some factors that help personalize treatment plans are related to an individual. For example, for a woman whose treatment plan includes hormone therapy, whether or not she is postmenopausal guides her drug options.

After menopause, women can take tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor. Before menopause, women can take tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor combined with ovarian suppression.

Learn more about factors that affect treatment and prognosis.

Important information from the CDC about the seasonal flu.

 

How age affects your treatment plan

No matter your age, your treatment plan depends on many factors, such as tumor stage, tumor grade, hormone receptor status and HER2 status

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

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 [1].

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 (radiologistspathologists, palliative care or pain specialists, and others)
  • Nurses
  • Genetic counselors
  • Dietitians
  • Social workers
  • Physical therapists
  • Patient navigators
  • Pharmacists
  • Other providers

They may be involved in your care throughout diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Learn about choosing a doctor.

Staying organized

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:

  • A directory of the names, addresses and contact information for your health care team
  • Insurance information
  • Medication lists
  • Pharmacy contact information
  • Other medical information
  • A calendar to help plan and keep track of appointments
  • Blank paper to write down questions and answers, or to record any side effects you’re having or other information for your health care team
  • Pockets to store materials

 

 

Talking openly with your health care provider is one of the best ways to feel good about your breast cancer treatment decisions.

Learn more about talking with your health care provider.

Find questions to help you talk with your provider about:

Questions to Ask Your Doctor resources

Susan G. Komen® has a series of Questions to Ask Your Doctor resources on many breast cancer topics. They may be helpful if you have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer or feel too overwhelmed to know where to begin to gather information.

You can download and print out these resources and take them with you to your next doctor appointment. There’s plenty of space to write down the answers to these questions, which you can refer to later.

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.

Learn about transportation, lodging, child care and elder care assistance programs.

 

Susan G. Komen®’s Breast Care Helpline:
1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636)

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 helpline@komen.org.