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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

Local and

Treatment for breast cancer focuses on two approaches:

  • Local therapy treats the breast and the surrounding  to prevent the cancer from recurring. Local breast cancer therapies include:
    • surgery
    • radiation 
  •  treats the entire body in order to prevent or control spread to other areas outside the breast. Treating the entire body with medications to destroy cancer cells that may have traveled in the body can help prevent future metastases.  is also used to treat cancer that is already  and has spread to distant organs. Systemic therapies include:

Timing of treatment

Breast cancer treatment may be given:

  • before surgery (called neo-adjuvant or pre-operative therapy)
  • after surgery in early  cancer (called  therapy or )
  • for treatment of recurrent or advanced cancers

Treatment for

is usually treated with:

  • Surgery: (surgery to remove the cancer but not the entire breast) followed by radiation or mastectomy.  may be removed during surgery to see if the cancer has spread beyond the milk duct.
  • Hormonal therapy: Most is ER-positive. Most people receive hormone therapy after surgery for

Treatment for invasive cancer

Invasive breast cancer has spread beyond the milk duct or lobules into the surrounding tissue. Invasive breast cancer can spread within the breast, to the , the chest wall and to other parts of the body. It is usually treated by:

  • Surgery: (surgery to remove the cancer but not the entire breast) followed by radiation or mastectomy (removal of the entire breast).  are removed to see how much the cancer has spread.
  • Hormonal therapy (also called endocrine therapy): Most people with hormone sensitive tumors () cancers receive hormone therapy after surgery. The most common types of hormonal therapies are: 
    • Selective receptor modulators (SERM) block cells from using . Example of common SERMs include tamoxifen and raloxifene.
    • Selective receptor degraders (SERD) damage the receptors that cancer cells use to bind to . The SERDs with  approval include Faslodex (fulvestrant) and Oserdu (elacestrant).
    • Aromatase inhibitors (AI) block cells from making . Examples of aromatase inhibitors include Arimidex (anastrozole), Femara (letrozole) and Aromasin (exemestane). 
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is often used to treat breast cancer that is not hormone sensitive (ER-negative and PR-negative). Chemotherapy may be given before surgery (neo-adjuvant) to shrink the size of the cancer and number of affected and after surgery () to kill any remaining cancer cells that may have escaped the breast area. In the case of breast cancer, chemotherapy is often given to keep the cancer from growing.
  • The most common chemotherapy agents used to treat newly-diagnosed breast cancer include one or more of the following:
    • Cytoxan (cyclophosphomide)
    • Taxotere (Docetaxol) or Abraxane (nab-paclitaxel)
    • Adriamycin (Doxorubicin) 
  • In recurrent breast cancer or other situations, oncologists may use the following chemotherapy:
    • Xeloda (capecitabine)
    • Carboplatin
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy is used to treat the breast and sometimes surrounding after surgery to prevent recurrence. In people with breast cancer which has spread to their bones, brain or other sites, radiation is often given to reduce the size of the tumor and manage pain or other symptoms.
  • Anti-HER2 therapy:  breast cancer is usually treated with medications that target the protein. 
  • 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.
Last updated February 18, 2023

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