Breast cancer

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Treatments for breast cancer

If you have breast cancer, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your health and specific information about the cancer. When deciding which treatments to offer for ductal carcinoma and lobular carcinoma, your healthcare team will consider:

  • the stage
  • if you have reached menopause
  • the hormone receptor status of the cancer
  • the HER2 status of the cancer
  • the risk that the cancer will come back, or recur (for early stage breast cancers)
  • your overall health

You may be offered one or more of the following treatments for breast cancer.

Surgery

Most women with breast cancer will have surgery. Your healthcare team will talk to you about the different types of surgery to help you decide which is best for you. The types of surgery you will be offered depend mainly on:

  • the size and location of the tumour
  • the size of the breast
  • if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes
  • if you have already had any treatments for breast cancer

Surgery for breast cancer includes breast-conserving surgery, mastectomy and lymph node surgeries.

Radiation therapy

External beam radiation therapy uses a machine to direct radiation through the skin to the tumour and tissue around it.

Radiation therapy is almost always given after breast-conserving surgery. In some cases it may be given after a mastectomy. It is also used to treat breast cancer that has spread to the bones, lungs or brain.

Hormonal therapy

Hormonal therapy is often used to treat hormone receptor–positive breast cancer. Post-menopausal women are given different hormonal therapy drugs than premenopausal women.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a common treatment for breast cancer. It is often given after surgery for early stage breast cancer to reduce the risk that the cancer will come back. It is also the main treatment for advanced or metastatic breast cancer.

Combinations of chemotherapy drugs are most often used for breast cancer because they are more effective than single drugs.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy may be given alone or in combination with chemotherapy, hormonal therapy or both.

If you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment

You may want to consider a type of care to make you feel better without treating the cancer itself. This may be because the cancer treatments don’t work anymore, they’re not likely to improve your condition or they may cause side effects that are hard to cope with. There may also be other reasons why you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment.

Talk to your healthcare team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.

Follow-up care

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. You will need to have regular follow-up visits, especially in the first 5 years after treatment has finished. These visits allow your healthcare team to monitor your progress and recovery from treatment.

Clinical trials

Many clinical trials in Canada are open to women with breast cancer. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.

Questions to ask about treatment

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about treatment.

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