At Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, breast cancer is treated with a multidisciplinary approach in which a team of experts including medical, surgical and radiation oncologists work together to develop an individual treatment plan based on each patient’s unique needs. Clinical nurse navigators work closely with patients, guiding them through their first visit and then serving as a single point of contact throughout their care.
The specific treatment for breast cancer depends on multiple factors which include:
You may receive treatment for your breast cancer that is considered “standard” based on its demonstrated effectiveness in patients evaluated in previous trials or you may choose to go into a clinical trial. Clinical trials try to find better ways to treat breast cancer patients. If you are eligible for a clinical trial, your oncologist will discuss this option with you. In either case, treatment for breast cancer may include:
Surgery is used to remove the cancer from the breast. During surgery, some lymph nodes under the arm are also removed. These lymph nodes are examined under a microscope to see if there are cancer cells present. This is very important to determine the stage of the cancer and guide further treatment decisions.
Learn more about the types of surgery used to treat breast cancer
In breast reconstruction surgery, a plastic surgeon recreates all or part of a breast that has been surgically removed. This is done using a breast implant, or tissue from another part of the body. The goal of reconstruction is to make breasts look natural and balanced when the patient is wearing clothing.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may be given by a machine outside the body or by putting special materials that produce radiation into the area of the body that has cancer.
Radiation therapy may be used in many different situations for breast cancer patients:
Chemotherapy is the use of special drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Most chemotherapy drugs are given by a needle in a vein. The specific drugs used will be determined by the stage of your cancer as well as features unique to you such as your overall health. Chemotherapy may be used alone without surgery or radiation therapy for metastatic breast cancer. In earlier stages of breast cancer, chemotherapy may be given before surgery (neoadjuvant chemotherapy) or after surgery (adjuvant therapy).
In some cases of early stage breast cancer, gene-expression profiling is used to predict who is likely to benefit from chemotherapy and who is not likely to benefit. This diagnostic test is performed on the tumor specimen that analyzes 21 genes in the cancer. In women with estrogen receptor-positive tumors that have not spread to the lymph nodes under the arm, the test helps to assess the likelihood that the breast cancer will return and helps to identify which women are most likely to benefit from chemotherapy.
If your breast cancer cells contain estrogen or progesterone receptors, hormone therapy will likely be part of your overall cancer treatment plan. Hormone therapy uses drugs that work by either lowering estrogen levels or by blocking estrogen from stimulating breast cancer cells. For premenopausal or perimenopausal women, tamoxifen is most commonly used. For women who are postmenopausal, an aromatase inhibitor may be used instead of tamoxifen.
Targeted therapy uses drugs that target specific molecules involved in breast cancer cell growth and progression. Monoclonal antibodies as well as tyrosine kinase inhibitors are types of targeted drugs commonly used for breast cancer. Based on the specific features of your breast cancer, your oncologist will determine whether these drugs are an option for you.