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Breast Cancer Treatment and Support

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, you may be overwhelmed by what it means, what you’re feeling, and how to decide what to do. The team at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center is by your side to support you with all aspects of breast cancer. We take a comprehensive approach to breast cancer treatment. Your care team includes some of the nation’s top medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists, as well as clinical nurse navigators to work closely with you throughout your care.

Types of Breast Cancer Treatment

Banner MD Anderson works with you to create a customized breast cancer treatment plan to ensure we provide you the most effective care possible.


Surgery is a common part of most breast cancer treatment. It’s done for different reasons such as to remove the cancer, find out if the cancer has spread, restore the breast’s shape, or relieve symptoms.

  • Surgery to Remove Breast Cancer
    • Breast-conserving surgery: Surgical procedures like lumpectomy
    • Mastectomy: The entire breast is removed, including all of the breast tissue and sometimes other nearby tissues. Sometimes the skin and/or nipple can be saved during the mastectomy to help with reconstruction.

If you are in the early stages of breast cancer, you may have the option to have either breast-conserving surgery followed by radiation treatment or a mastectomy. Studies show when breast-conserving surgery is combined with radiation, survival rates are the same as having a mastectomy.

Mastectomy may be a better option for some women with certain types of breast cancer, a large tumor size, previous treatment with radiation or other factors.

  • Breast reconstruction: Breast reconstruction can be done during breast cancer surgery or in the future. During reconstruction, a plastic surgeon uses an implant or tissue from another part of the body to recreate the breast. Because this procedure is not considered cosmetic surgery, it’s covered by most health insurance plans. Learn more about breast reconstruction options.
  • Radioactive seed localization (RSL): RSL can help surgeons accurately locate and remove a breast tumor, sparing healthy tissue. A radioactive seed is a tiny clip with a signal embedded into it. During the placement of the seed, a mammogram or ultrasound is used to locate the abnormal tissue, and a needle is used to deposit the seed at the tumor site. During surgery, your surgeon uses a special probe that picks up the signal emitted from the seed to locate the tumor. In this way, the tumor and the seed can then be removed together with excellent precision.
  • Surgery to remove lymph nodes: Axillary (underarm) lymph nodes may be removed as part of breast cancer surgery or during a separate procedure. Analysis of the lymph nodes is important to understand the stage of cancer.
    • Sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB): Tracers are injected into the breast to map the first set of lymph nodes, which collect the drainage of the breast. These lymph nodes are termed sentinel lymph nodes and are the ones that would be affected by breast cancer first.
    • Axillary lymph node dissection (ALND): Almost all of the underarm lymph nodes are removed.
  • Surgery for advanced breast cancer: Surgery for more advanced stages of breast cancer likely can’t cure the disease, but it can slow the spread or treat symptoms.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. For breast cancer patients, radiation may be used to:

  • Kill any remaining cancer cells after breast-conserving surgery
  • Reduce tumor size and spread following a mastectomy
  • Treat specific areas of the body affected by metastatic breast cancer, sometimes combined with chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy

Banner MD Anderson offers a variety of radiation therapies. If your care team recommends radiation therapy as part of your treatment, be sure to ask questions about how it works, how you’ll feel and what results to expect. Our team is here to help you get the information you need to be comfortable about making breast cancer treatment decisions.


Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells throughout the body. Different drugs are prescribed depending on the type as well as the stage of your cancer and overall health. Chemotherapy drugs to treat breast cancer are usually given as an injection or needle in a vein, but they can also be given orally. Chemotherapy may be used before or after surgery, either alone or in combination with radiation therapy.

In some early stages, your doctors may use gene-expression profiling to predict if you would benefit from chemotherapy or to help assess the likelihood breast cancer will return.

Hormone (Endocrine) Therapy

Hormone therapy uses drugs that either lower estrogen levels or block estrogen from breast cancer cells.

Targeted Therapies

Targeted therapy uses drugs that target specific molecules in invasive breast cancer cell growth and progression.


Immunotherapy uses novel drugs to stimulate the patient’s immune system to fight the cancer. It is currently being used specifically in triple negative breast cancers.

Clinical Trials

Doctors and scientists are continually working to cure breast cancer and improve treatment options. With the evaluation and careful study of new therapies and treatments, clinical trials help reveal improved ways to diagnose, treat and prevent cancer.

You may qualify for clinical trials for breast cancer therapies, giving you access to some of the latest and most advanced treatments. Talk to your Banner MD Anderson care team about clinical trials or learn more about current breast cancer clinical trials.

Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatment

There are a lot of factors to consider when making decisions about your breast cancer treatment, including potential side effects. If you have a question or something is unclear, ask us. We can provide information, resources, and tools to help you weigh all your options.

Most breast cancer treatments have side effects. Luckily, most side effects of breast cancer therapies can be treated and ease once treatment is completed.

Across all breast cancer treatments, the most frequent severe side effects include pain, skin irritation, and constipation. Depending on the treatment, you may experience:

  • Surgery: Pain and lymphedema (swelling of the breast and/or arm)
  • Hormone therapy: Hot flashes, joint pain, and bone thinning
  • Chemotherapy: Hair loss, diarrhea, neuropathy, fatigue, and mouth sores
  • Radiation therapy: Itching, soreness, and peeling skin
  • Targeted therapies: Vomiting, fatigue, and diarrhea

Resources and Support for Breast Cancer Patients

We now offer new ways of preventing hair loss during chemotherapy using the newly approved scalp cooling cap. These cooling caps can prevent hair loss in up to 75% of women.

Making sure you’re physically comfortable, have ideal pain management and feel emotionally supported is extremely important to all of us at Banner MD Anderson. Be open with us about your feelings, preferences and concerns. We’re here to help.

Get more information on Banner MD Anderson’s support services, including breast cancer programs and breast cancer support groups, with our Integrative Oncology Program.

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