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Breast Cancer Treatment

Learn how genetic test results may affect medical decisions about cancer treatment.”

Breast cancer treatment types

There are two major treatment components for breast cancer.

Local therapy aims to treat the breast and the lymph nodes around the breast. Local therapies include:

  • surgery
  • radiotherapy (often called radiation). 

Systemic therapy aims to treat the entire body. Breast cancer cells can sometimes enter the bloodstream, and if the traveling cells are able to establish themselves in distant organs, this can lead to metastasis. Therefore, treating the entire body with medications to eradicate microscopic cancer cells that may have traveled elsewhere in the body is vital in preventing future metastases. Systemic therapies include:

  • chemotherapy
  • hormonal therapy
  • anti-Her2 therapy
  • immunotherapy
  • targeted therapy

Timing of therapy

Systemic therapies may be given:

  • before surgery (called neo-adjuvant or pre-operative therapy)
  • after surgery (called adjuvant therapy)

Neo-adjuvant therapies are becoming more common, in part because they allow physicians to see whether or not the tumor responds to a certain treatment before surgery.

updated 9/30/15

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