Treatment overview

Treatment options for breast cancer

For most women, the first treatment for breast cancer is surgery to remove it. You will usually have additional treatments to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. These treatments may include radiotherapy, hormonal therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy with trastuzumab (Herceptin).

Your doctor and breast care nurse will explain the treatments they think are best for you.

They will ask about your preferences, explain the options available and can help you if you need to make decisions about treatment.

Surgery

Surgery is one of the main treatments for breast cancer. Your surgeon may advise that you have an operation to remove the cancer and some surrounding tissue. This is called breast conserving surgery. Or, they may advise that you have the whole breast removed. This is called a mastectomy. Both these operations usually involve having some or all the lymph nodes in your armpit removed.

Breast reconstruction can be done at the same time as these operations or later.

Sometimes, doctors give chemotherapy or hormonal therapy before surgery to shrink the cancer, making it easier to remove. This is called neo-adjuvant treatment.

Additional treatments

You are likely to be offered one or more of the following treatments after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

Radiotherapy

After breast-conserving surgery, your doctor will usually advise you to have radiotherapy to the rest of the breast. This gets rid of any cancer cells that may have been left behind. Some women who have had a mastectomy will also need radiotherapy to the chest.

Chemotherapy

If the cancer is large, is in the lymph nodes or is high-grade, your doctor will usually talk to you about having chemotherapy. Women with triple negative or HER2 positive breast cancer are also likely to have chemotherapy.

Hormonal therapy

If the cancer is oestrogen-receptor positive, your doctor will ask you to take hormonal therapy for a number of years.

Targeted therapy

If you have HER2 positive breast cancer, you’ll usually have treatment with trastuzumab and chemotherapy.

Research into breast cancer is going on all the time. Better treatments mean more women are cured or living for longer. Your breast specialist may ask you if you would like to take part in a clinical trial. You can read more about this in our information about clinical trials.

Back to Understanding your diagnosis

Just been diagnosed

Just been diagnosed with cancer? We're here for you every step of the way. There are many ways we can help.

Staging and grading

Doctors will stage and grade the cancer using further tests. This helps them to choose the most appropriate type of treatment.

Receptors for breast cancer

Some breast cancer cells have receptors (proteins) that affect how the cancer grows. They respond well to hormonal therapies.