How is breast cancer treated?

Doctors and nurses in surgery

Surgery for breast cancer

Most people with breast cancer have some type of surgery. There are two main types of surgery:

  • Breast-conserving surgery: The part of the breast containing the tumour is removed. 
  • Mastectomy: The whole breast is removed.

You may also have surgery to remove some or all of your lymph nodes.

The type of surgery you need usually depends on:

  • The size of the cancer relative to your breast size
  • Where the cancer is in your breast
  • If there are any more areas of disease in your breast. 

Read more about breast cancer surgery.

Radiotherapy for breast cancer

  • External radiotherapy. This involves using high energy rays to kill the cancer cells. It can be given instead of surgery or after surgery. It may also be given if the cancer has spread to the area around the breast. 
  • Internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy). The radiation source is placed in or near your tumour for a very short time to kill the cancer cells. 

You may have both external and internal radiotherapy.

Read more about radiotherapy for breast cancer.

Drug therapies for breast cancer

The best treatment for you will depend on:

The size and grade of your tumour.

The type of breast cancer you have.

What proteins / hormone receptors are on your cancer cells.

If the cancer has spread − to lymph nodes or elsewhere in your body.

The results of your oncotype test if you have one.

Will I get side-effects? 

The type of side-effects you get will depend on the type of treatment, the dose, the duration and your own general health. 

Ask your doctor or nurse about possible side-effects before your treatment. You can read about the different treatments to find out more about possible side-effects. We have information to help you cope with side-effects.

Treating breast cancer that has spread (metastatic breast cancer)

Metastatic or secondary breast cancer means the cancer has spread beyond the breast, usually to your bones, lungs or liver. 

If you have metastatic breast cancer, your doctor will aim to slow down the growth of the cancer and reduce or relieve any symptoms you have. Treatment includes hormone therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therpies and radiotherapy. Or you may be suitable for a clinical trial

Read more about metastatic breast cancer.

For more information

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