Breast Health Center
Breast cancer is usually treated with a combination of therapies, which may
include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy and immunotherapy. You may receive one, two or all five of these therapies, depending on several factors.
Determining which therapies are right for you depends on many factors, such as:
- Type, grade, size and aggressiveness of the tumor
- Whether your lymph nodes are involved
- Hormone receptor status
- Overall health
In addition to meeting with your surgeon, you will see a medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist. A medical oncologist specializes in treating cancer with chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and immunotherapy. A radiation oncologist specializes in using radiation to treat breast cancer.
When you consult with your doctor, you can discuss the treatment plan that’s best for you.
Chemotherapy is the use of medications to kill cancer cells. These medications are often called “anticancer” drugs. Anticancer drugs enter the body’s bloodstream and destroy cancer cells by stopping them from growing or multiplying. It is a systemic therapy that goes throughout the entire body.
Standard chemotherapy includes a combination of drugs. Different types of drugs affect breast cancer growth at different stages in the cell cycle. Chemotherapy is given before or after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer returning. Chemotherapy usually begins within four to 12 weeks after surgery.
Chemotherapy can be given by mouth or intravenously. The intravenous medications are usually given in an outpatient location, such as at a clinic or doctor’s office. Chemotherapy is often given in cycles, for example, weekly or every 14, 21 or 28 days, with rest periods in between. Supportive medicines are given to prevent and decrease the side effects of the chemotherapy. Periods of rest allow your body to regain strength before your next treatment. The length of the cycles will depend on the specific medications used. The total length of chemotherapy treatment time will vary. For early stage, it usually lasts three to six months. You will receive information on specific chemotherapy drugs and your treatment plan from your medical oncologist.
Hormone (Endocrine) Therapy:
Hormone, or endocrine, therapy prevents cancer cells from getting the natural hormones (estrogen and progesterone) that they need to grow. When breast cancer is diagnosed, tumor cells are tested for hormone receptors. Results from these lab tests can show if the tumor is positive for estrogen and progesterone receptors (ER/PR +). A positive receptor status means tumor growth can be stimulated by these hormones. With positive receptor status, your doctor will recommend hormone therapy. If the cells are receptor negative, hormone therapy will not have an effect on your breast cancer, so your doctor probably will not recommend it.
The treatment for positive receptor status is a medication that will block the cancerous cells from the hormones needed for growth. Hormone therapy can be given by mouth or intravenously. You will receive specific information on hormone therapy from your medical oncologist.
Immunotherapy (biotherapy) is a type of treatment with medication that specifically targets breast cancer cells. When breast cancer is diagnosed, tumor cells are tested for the protein HER-2/neu. Results from the lab test can show if the tumor has high numbers of HER-2/neu. You can benefit from immunotherapy if your tumor is proven to have too much of the protein HER-2/neu.
Treatment consists of a medication that is injected into a vein in your body. This medication blocks the protein and attempts to slow or stop the growth of the breast cancer cells. You will receive specific information on immunotherapy from your medical oncologist.