Cancer Information

Aug 20, 2009 5:16 PM

Breast Cancer Treatments


Biopsy of a suspicious area of the breast is generally done to establish that it is cancer. Once the biopsy has been done, decisions regarding treatment should include discussions with the surgeon, radiation oncologist and medical oncologist. Surgical approaches may include stereotactic biopsy, sentinel lymph node biopsy, removing the entire breast (mastectomy), a portion of the breast (lumpectomy), and some or all of the lymph nodes under the arm.

Radiation Therapy

Many women with early breast cancer may be treated with limited surgery (lumpectomy) followed by radiation therapy. At St. Mary-Corwin, more than half the women with early breast cancer are now treated in this way. Preserving a normal or near-normal appearance while successfully treating the cancer is the goal of this treatment, and is often the preferred treatment.


During the past 20 years, the role of chemotherapy has dramatically changed in increasing the chance for a cure of breast cancer. Today, the majority of women with breast cancer may benefit from chemotherapy, which treats cancer cells that may have spread beyond the breast tissue. Most chemotherapy can be done as an outpatient, and is given by a medical oncologist. The Ambulatory Infusion Center at St. Mary-Corwin is available to administer chemotherapy.

Hormonal Therapy

Many women with breast cancer may be treated with drugs which block the effects of estrogen on breast cancer cells and which may slow or stop the growth of those cancers. One of the most common such drugs is Tamoxifen, which is now also being used to reduce the chance of developing breast cancer in those women who are at high risk.

Other Therapy

Not all medical treatment for breast cancer involves the use of chemotherapy or hormone therapy. As we learn more about the genetic alterations, which allow breast cancer to develop and grow, we also learn about new ways to stop its growth. Herceptin® is an antibody that can be used in some women whose cancers produce an excess of a specific protein that promotes growth. The use of this antibody is currently limited to women who have a recurrence of their cancer, but clinical studies will determine whether it may also benefit women newly diagnosed with breast cancer.


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