Treatments for stage II breast cancer
The following are treatment options for stage II ductal carcinoma and lobular carcinoma. Doctors consider stage IIA to be early stage breast cancer. Stage IIB is considered to be locally advanced breast cancer. Your healthcare team will suggest treatments based on your needs and work with you to develop a treatment plan.
Surgery is a standard treatment for stage II breast cancer.
Breast conserving surgery is offered if doctors can remove all of the tumour along with a margin of healthy tissue around it and there will still be enough tissue for the breast to look as natural as possible after surgery.
Modified radical mastectomy is offered if there is cancer in more than one area of the breast or in the edges of the tissue removed during breast-conserving surgery (called positive surgical margins). It is also offered if a tumour isn’t found in the breast but there is a very small amount of cancer in the lymph nodes (stage IIA).
Sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) may be offered if doctors think the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes. If the results of the SLNB show that there is cancer in the sentinel lymph node, or if the sentinel node can’t be found, doctors will do an ALND to stage the cancer.
Axillary lymph node dissection (ALND) may be done to diagnose and stage breast cancer.
External beam radiation therapy is offered after breast-conserving surgery for stage II breast cancer. All of the breast and the lymph nodes under the arm and near the collarbone are treated.
You may be offered radiation therapy after mastectomy for stage II breast cancer if it has spread to the lymph nodes or into the skin or muscles of the chest.
Chemotherapy is usually offered after surgery for stage II breast cancer. It may be given before surgery (called neoadjuvant therapy) if:
- the tumour is larger than 5 cm
- the tumour has grown into the skin or muscles of the chest
- the cancer has spread to lymph nodes both under the arm and around the breastbone
The most common combinations of chemotherapy drugs used are:
- AC-T – doxorubicin (Adriamycin) and cyclophosphamide (Procytox) followed by paclitaxel (Taxol) or docetaxel (Taxotere)
- T-AC – paclitaxel or docetaxel followed by doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide
- TC – paclitaxel and cyclophosphamide
- CAF (or FAC) – cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin and 5-fluorouracil (Adrucil, 5-FU)
- CAF followed by docetaxel or paclitaxel
- CEF (or FEC) – cyclophosphamide, epirubicin (Pharmorubicin) and 5-fluorouracil
- CEF followed by docetaxel or paclitaxel
- EC – epirubicin and cyclophosphamide
Hormonal therapy is always offered for hormone receptor–positive stage II breast cancer. It is continued for up to a total of 10 years.
Aromatase inhibitors are given only to post-menopausal women. They may be offered after tamoxifen therapy or instead of tamoxifen if you can’t take or would prefer not to take tamoxifen. The most common aromatase inhibitors used are:
- letrozole (Femara)
- anastrozole (Arimidex)
- exemestane (Aromasin)
Hormonal therapy for post-menopausal women
Hormonal therapy for post-menopausal women with stage II breast cancer includes tamoxifen (an anti-estrogen) and aromatase inhibitors.
You may be offered one of the following options:
- tamoxifen (Nolvadex, Tamofen) alone for up to 10 years
- an aromatase inhibitor alone for up to 10 years
- tamoxifen for 5 years, and then an aromatase inhibitor for up to 5 years (for up to a total of 10 years of hormonal therapy)
- tamoxifen for 2 to 3 years followed by an aromatase inhibitor for 2 to 3 years, or starting with an aromatase inhibitor followed by tamoxifen, for a total of 5 years of hormonal therapy
- an aromatase inhibitor for 2 to 3 years, followed by tamoxifen
Hormonal therapy for premenopausal women
Hormonal therapy options for premenopausal women with stage II breast cancer include the following.
You will take tamoxifen for 5 years, then your healthcare team will check if you have reached menopause:
- If you are still premenopausal, you can continue to take tamoxifen for up to 10 years in total.
- If you have reached menopause, your healthcare team may offer you the option to continue tamoxifen for up to 10 years in total or to switch to an aromatase inhibitor for up to 5 years (for up to a total of 10 years of hormonal therapy).
Older premenopausal women may be offered ovarian ablation or suppression, along with tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor, for up to 10 years.
Trastuzumab (Herceptin) is added to chemotherapy for stage II breast cancer that is HER2 positive and has a high risk for recurrence. Trastuzumab is usually given for up to a year after chemotherapy for breast cancer has finished.
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.