Treating Breast Cancer


According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), it is estimated that approximately 192,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the United States. Despite this number, it is important to know that over the past several decades, scientists and researchers have made significant strides in developing innovative treatment options to treat this type of cancer.

While the decision to follow a particular treatment regimen depends largely on the stage of the cancer, as well as having an open dialogue between physician and patient about potential side effects, treatment for breast cancer may include one or more of the following:


Typically, surgery is the most common form of treatment for breast cancer. Depending on where the cancer is located and how large in size it is doctors may decide to perform one of two types of surgeries on the breast. The first, referred to as breast-sparing surgery (or a lumpectomy or partial mastectomy), occurs when a surgeon will only remove the area of the breast that is affected by the cancer. The second, known as a mastectomy, is where the surgeon removes the entire breast. During each of these two types of surgeries, the surgeon will also likely remove some lymph nodes under the arms in order to check to see if the cancer has spread from the breast.

Radiation Therapy

Usually given after surgery, radiation therapy is the use of high-energy rays to kill the breast cancer cells. It can be given externally, meaning the radiation stems from a large machine, or internally, where the radiation is placed in a small tube and inserted into the breast through a tiny incision.

Hormone Therapy

Prior to diagnosis, a biopsy is usually performed to confirm the presence of cancer cells in the breast. Other tests are typically performed on this tissue to determine whether the tumor is hormone receptor positive or negative. If it is positive, it means the cancer relies on the hormones estrogen and progesterone to grow. Hormone therapy is used in those breast cancers that are hormone receptor positive because it blocks the cancer cells from using these hormones.


Given intravenously and by pill, chemotherapy works to kill the rapidly dividing cancer cells. Unfortunately, chemotherapy is not selective to killing just the cancer cells, but also depletes other fast-growing cells in the body, which causes several debilitating side effects including hair loss and nausea.

Targeted Therapy

Innovative research over the past decade has yielded a better understanding of how certain genes or proteins stimulate the growth of certain cancers. For example, scientists discovered that a protein called HER-2 stimulates the growth of certain breast cancers. Currently, there are two targeted therapies available to treat breast cancer in patients whose tumors overexpress the HER-2 protein.

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