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Treatment for Breast Cancer

Doctors base treatment recommendations for breast cancer on several factors, including:

  •  of cancer
  • Subtype based on pathology
  • Additional testing, including biomarkers and other tests
  • How fast the cancer is growing or how likely it is to spread
  • Whether the cancer is newly-diagnosed or has recurred after one or more treatments

Most breast cancer is treated with a combination of one or more of the following treatments:


Every treatment has potential risks and side effects. Before any new treatment or surgery, make sure your healthcare team tells you about what to expect. 

Surgery

Most breast cancers are treated with one of the following types of surgery. 

  • (surgery to remove the cancer but not the entire breast). is often followed by radiation.
  • Mastectomy (removal of the entire breast). 
  • are removed to see whether, and how much the cancer has spread.

Radiation therapy

  • Radiation therapy is used in early breast cancer to treat the breast and surrounding tissue after surgery to prevent recurrence.
  • In people with breast cancer which has spread to their bones, brain or other sites, radiation may be given to reduce the size of the tumor and manage pain or other symptoms.

Hormone therapy (endocrine therapy) 

Most people with cancers receive hormone therapy after surgery. The most common types of hormone therapies are: 

  • SERMs (selective receptor modulators) block cells from using . Example of common SERMs include tamoxifen and raloxifene.
  • SERDs (selective receptor degraders) damage the receptors that allow cancer cells use to feed on . The SERDs with  approval include Faslodex (fulvestrant) and Oserdu (elacestrant).
  • Aromatase inhibitors block cells from making . Examples of aromatase inhibitors include Arimidex (anastrozole), Femara (letrozole) and Aromasin (exemestane). 

Chemotherapy

  • For early breast cancer, chemotherapy may be given before surgery to shrink the size of the cancer and number of affected. This is known as therapy. 
  • For early breast cancer, chemotherapy may be given after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells that may have escaped the breast area. This is known as therapy. 
  • For people with breast cancer, chemotherapy may be given to keep the cancer from growing.

Anti-HER2 therapy

breast cancer is usually treated with medications that target the protein

Targeted therapies and immunotherapies

Other therapies such as , PARP inhibitors and other targeted therapies may be used to treat invasive breast cancer. Additional or genetic testing is often needed to help choose the patients most likely to respond to these treatments.

Treatment side effects

Your healthcare team should explain what you should expect from all treatments, including:

  • all of the possible risks and side effects of each treatment.
  • which side effects may be serious and how to tell. 
  • when and who you should call if you experience a side effect.
  • what can be done to treat or alleviate each side effect. 

Make sure you let your healthcare team know if you experience any side effects of your treatment. For more information about possible treatment side effects, see our section on Cancer Treatment by Treatment Type

Last updated January 03, 2024

Get Support
Get Support

The following organizations offer peer support services for people with, or at high risk for breast cancer:

updated: 11/29/2022

Paying For Care
Paying For Care

Paying for cancer treatment

The majority of public and private health insurance plans are required to cover cancer diagnosis and treatment; copays, coinsurance and deductibles often apply. Patient costs and coverage for specific doctors, facilities or treatments may vary based on your health plan. Visit our section on Insurance and Paying for Care: Treatment  for more information, links to sample appeal letters and other resources. 

If you need information about finding an insurance plan, watch our video: Choosing Wisely: How to Pick Insurance Plans.

Some pharmaceutical companies have assistance programs that help cover the cost for their medications: 

Organizations that offer co-pay assistance:

Other resources:

  • The American Cancer Society provides information and resources on covering the cost of cancer care. Public assistance, such as Medicaid may be available if you are ineligible for other programs. 
  • Needy Meds: Assistance programs to help patients with cost of medications and other healthcare.
  • Triage Cancer offers tools and resources to help individuals cope with the financial aspects of a cancer diagnosis.

updated: 02/10/2023