Treatment overview

Treatments for breast cancer include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapy. Your doctor will advise you on the best treatment, taking into account factors such as your general health and the type, size and grade of the cancer.

For most men with breast cancer, the main treatment is surgery. You may have chemotherapy or hormonal therapy before surgery to shrink the cancer. After surgery, you may have radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormonal or targeted therapy. This is to get rid of any remaining cancer cells or to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

If the cancer has spread to another part of the body, it is called secondary breast cancer. Although it isn’t usually possible to cure breast cancer that has spread, treatment may be able to control it and improve quality of life. The main treatments for this type of cancer are hormonal therapy and chemotherapy.

Before you have treatment, your specialist doctor or nurse will talk to you about what to expect and answer your questions.

Treatments for breast cancer in men

Treatments used for men are similar to those used for breast cancer in women. These can include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapy with Herceptin. Your doctor will advise you on the best plan of treatment, taking into account a number of factors. These include:

  • your general health
  • the type of cancer
  • the stage and grade of the cancer
  • whether it is ER positive and/or HER2 positive, or triple-negative.


Early and locally advanced breast cancer

For most men, the main treatment for early breast cancer is surgery to remove it. Sometimes only the lump and some surrounding tissue will need to be removed. But as men generally have only a small amount of breast tissue, an operation to remove breast cancer usually involves taking away all of the breast tissue and the nipple in the affected side.

Many men will also have other types of treatments to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. Occasionally some men who have larger cancers may have chemotherapy or hormonal therapy before surgery to shrink the tumour. This is known as neo-adjuvant therapy.

After the breast tissue has been removed, you will usually have radiotherapy to the chest wall. This is to get rid of any cancer cells that may have been left behind after surgery. Some men may have radiotherapy to the lymph nodes in the armpit or the lower part of the neck.

If the cancer is large, has spread to the lymph nodes or is high-grade, you may be given chemotherapy after your operation. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy. Men who have triple-negative breast cancer are also usually treated with chemotherapy.

If the cancer is ER positive, you’ll be given hormonal treatment for a number of years. If you have HER2 positive breast cancer, you may have treatment with Herceptin.


Secondary breast cancer

If the cancer has spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes in the armpit to elsewhere in the body, this is called secondary breast cancer. The most common places that breast cancer cells may spread to are the bone, liver, lungs or brain. Secondary breast cancer can also spread to other lymph nodes, such as those in the lower part of the neck.

Although secondary breast cancer can spread to any of these areas, it most commonly affects just one or two parts of the body.

Treatment for secondary breast cancer depends on several factors, so can be different for each person. The most appropriate treatment depends on where the breast cancer has spread to. A man with secondary breast cancer affecting the bones will have different symptoms and may need different treatment from a man with secondary breast cancer in the liver.

It isn’t usually possible to cure breast cancer that has spread elsewhere in the body, but treatment may be able to control it for a long time. Treatment may also be used to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

The main treatments for cancer that has spread are hormonal therapy and chemotherapy, although surgery and radiotherapy may be helpful in some situations. The choice of treatment depends on where the cancer has spread to in the body, whether the cancer has oestrogen receptors (is ER positive) and which treatments, if any, have already been given.

Hormonal therapy is the most commonly used treatment for ER positive breast cancer that has spread. Hormonal therapy can be taken as tablets, as injections or as a combination of both. It’s usually taken for as long as it is effective. It is often used to treat secondary breast cancer in the bone.

Chemotherapy may be used if it’s known the cancer won’t respond to hormonal therapy (for example, if you have ER negative breast cancer). It may also be used to treat secondary cancer that is growing quickly or has spread to the liver or lungs. Herceptin may be given with chemotherapy in men who have HER2 positive breast cancer.

Radiotherapy may be used to shrink a tumour that is causing pain, especially in the bone. This is known as palliative radiotherapy.

Before you have any treatment, your cancer specialist and breast care nurse will talk it over with you and answer your questions.


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