Understanding Your Breast Cancer Treatment Options

A breast cancer diagnosis is daunting, but understanding your treatment options can ease a lot of your stress. A cancer doctor, called an oncologist, will work with you to determine which treatment option is best for you. They will consider your age, the type and stage of your cancer, and the risks and benefits of the different treatments. This article will give you an overview of several types of breast cancer treatment so you can better understand your options.


There are two basic types of breast cancer surgery, a lumpectomy, and a mastectomy. A lumpectomy removes only the cancerous tissue from the breast. A mastectomy is a surgery where the entirety of the breast is removed. Lymph nodes are also often removed to reduce the possibility of cancer coming back. Breast reconstructions are common after treatment. The type of surgery a patient needs will depend largely on the size of their cancer.

Radiation Therapy

External beam radiation is the most common form of radiation therapy. It uses a beam of radiation pointed directly at the cancer cells to destroy them. It can be targeted at the whole breast, a small part of the breast, the chest wall, or the lymph nodes. It can be used before surgery to help shrink cancer cells, or after surgery to help reduce the likelihood of cancer coming back.

Brachytherapy is a type of internal radiation. Radioactive beads are placed in the breast tissue where they can deliver radiation to the breast from inside the body. They are generally placed in the area from where the tumor was removed, to ensure that all possible cancer or precancerous cells are killed. 


Chemotherapy is the most well-known form of breast cancer treatment. Chemotherapy is a combination of different cancer-fighting drugs that are injected into the body via an IV. One dose may take just a few moments or several hours. Chemo is administered in cycles with rest periods between them. Most cycles last for several weeks. Like radiation, sometimes it is used in tandem with surgery and can be administered before and/or after the surgery.

Targeted Drug Therapy

Similar to chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy is administered through an IV into the blood. However, instead of affecting the entire body, it is made to target only cancer cells, therefore reducing many of the unfortunate side effects of chemo.

Hormone Therapy 

Some breast cancer tumors are hormone receptor-positive. This means that they can grow when they come in contact with estrogen and progesterone. 

Hormone therapy works in two ways. One way is by lowering the body's estrogen production. This decreases the estrogen coming in contact with the cancer cells, therefore slowing cancer's growth. The second is by using drugs that block the hormone receptors on cancer cells. These drugs alter a cancer cell and inhibit its ability to bind with hormones, also resulting in less cancer growth.

Alternative Medicine

Alternative medicine includes things like herbs, vitamins, diet, yoga, and acupuncture. These types of treatments are not regulated by the medical field, but when used with standard medical treatment, can be effective. 

Your oncologist may use one or a combination of multiple therapies to help treat your breast cancer. When several breast cancer treatment services are used together it increases the likelihood of success in fighting your cancer.