Treatment overview for breast cancer
Your doctors look at different factors to help decide which treatments are likely to work best for you.
The first treatment for breast cancer is often surgery to remove it. After surgery, you may have treatments to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. These treatments include:
Some women have treatments before they have surgery.
Drugs called bisphosphonates are sometimes given to reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back. They can also be used to protect your bones from the side effects of treatments, such as hormonal therapies.
Your doctors look at different factors to help decide which treatments are likely to work best for you. These include:
- the stage and grade of the cancer
- if the cancer cells have oestrogen receptors (ER positive)
- if the cancer has HER2 receptors (HER2 positive).
Your cancer doctor and specialist nurse will explain the treatments that they think are best for you. They can help you to make decisions about your treatment.
Treatments for breast cancer are improving. Better treatments mean that more women are cured or living longer. Your cancer doctor may ask you if you would like to take part in a research trial.
We understand that having treatment can be a difficult time for people. We're here to support you. If you want to talk, you can:
Your surgeon will talk to you about having one of these operations:
- breast-conserving surgery – this is where the cancer and some surrounding normal breast tissue is removed
- a mastectomy – this is when the whole breast is removed.
You will usually need some, or all, of the lymph nodes in your armpit removed. This is done with both these operations.
Some women also have surgery to make a new breast shape (breast reconstruction) during the operation. Others choose to have this done at a later time.
Your cancer doctor will usually offer you one or more of the following treatments after surgery. These treatments can reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.
Your cancer doctor and specialist nurse will talk to you about the most effective treatments available to you.
They may use an online tool such as Predict. Predict is designed to help women and their doctors make informed decisions about treatment after surgery for breast cancer.
It can show how much treatments may reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. You might find it helpful, especially if your cancer doctor has asked you to decide about whether to have chemotherapy.
Sometimes, doctors may suggest having a tumour profiling test on the cancer cells. This gives more information about the risk of the cancer coming back. It may help you to decide about having chemotherapy after breast cancer surgery.
Some treatments for breast cancer can affect your fertility. This may be temporary, but for some women it can be permanent.
Before treatment starts, your doctors and nurses will talk to you about this. If treatment could affect your fertility, they will explain what may be done to help preserve your fertility.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our breast cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
European Society for Medical Oncology. Primary breast cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of oncology 26 (supplement 5): v8–v30. 2015.
Morrow M, et al. Chapter 79: malignant tumors of the breast. DeVita, Hellman and Rosenberg’s cancer: principals and practice of oncology (10th edition). Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. 2014.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Early and locally advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and management. July 2018.
Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network. SIGN 134. Treatment of primary breast cancer: a national clinical guideline. September 2013.
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Rebecca Roylance, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.