To determine your breast cancer treatment options, your doctor considers your cancer’s stage, your overall health and your preferences. Breast cancer treatment often involves surgery and may also include other treatments.
The number one treatment for breast cancer is surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove the tumor and surrounding breast tissue. Surgical procedures used to treat breast cancer include:
- Surgery to remove breast tissue and surrounding lymph nodes. Most men and women with breast cancer undergo a modified radical mastectomy. In this procedure, a surgeon removes all of your breast tissue, including the nipple and areola, and some underarm (axillary) lymph nodes. Your lymph nodes are tested to see if they contain cancer cells. Removing your lymph nodes increases your risk of serious arm swelling (lymphedema).
- Surgery to remove one lymph node for testing. During a sentinel lymph node biopsy, your doctor identifies the lymph node most likely to be the first place your cancer cells would spread. That lymph node is removed and tested for cancer cells. If no cancer cells are found in that lymph node, there is a good chance that your breast cancer hasn’t spread beyond your breast tissue.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. During radiation therapy for breast cancer, radiation comes from a large machine that moves around your body, directing the energy beams to precise points on your chest.
In breast cancer, radiation therapy may be used in an attempt to eliminate any remaining cancer cells in the breast, chest muscles or armpit after surgery.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy treatment often involves receiving two or more drugs in different combinations. These may be administered through a vein in your arm (intravenously), in pill form or by both methods.
Your doctor may recommend chemotherapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may have spread outside your breast. Chemotherapy may also be an option for men and women with advanced breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast.
Some breast cancers rely on hormones for fuel. If your doctor determines that your cancer uses hormones to help it grow, you may be offered hormone therapy. Most men with male breast cancer have hormone-sensitive tumors. Hormone therapy for male breast cancer often involves the medication tamoxifen, which is also used in women. Other hormone therapy medications used in women with breast cancer haven’t been shown to be effective in men.
Complementary & Alternative Treatments
Alternative treatments may help you cope with feelings of anxiety and distress, which many people diagnosed with cancer experience. You may experience anxiety and distress from the shock of your diagnosis and from worrying about your future. If you have anxiety and distress, you may have difficulty concentrating and sleeping.
Consider complementary treatments, such as:
- Vitamin D. Clinical trials of vitamin D in women have shown a reduction of breast cancer incidence of up to 77-percent. There is also excellent evidence that shows vitamin D assist in breast cancer treatment. Supplement your diet with 5,000 IU of vitamin D each day. Visit our Vitamin D page for more information
- Exercise. Gentle exercise may help boost your mood and make you feel better. If you haven’t been exercising regularly, ask your doctor if it’s OK. Start slow and work your way up to more exercise on more days of the week. Visit our Exercise page for tips.
- Stress Management. If you believe in the mind/body connection, meditation and meditative prayer is a quiet activity that helps you clear your mind of distracting thoughts. You can meditate on your own or receive guidance from an instructor.
- Relaxation exercises. Relaxation exercises help refocus your mind and help you relax. Relaxation exercises include guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation. You can do relaxation exercises on your own, with an instructor or by listening to a recording that guides you through the exercises.