The main treatments for breast cancer are:
• hormone therapy
• targeted or biological therapy
Your doctor will go through the different treatments available and work out which one is best for you - but for most women the first step is surgery to remove the cancer.
Usually surgery will be followed by radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy or biological therapy, but your doctor will decide a course of action depending on the stage and grade of your cancer – how big it is and how far it has spread.
Depending on the extent of the breast cancer a surgeon will advise either breast conserving surgery - where just the cancer and some surrounding tissue is removed – or a mastectomy, where the entire breast is removed. With both these operations you will have some or all of the lymph nodes in your armpits removed as well.
After the surgery your doctor will decide on your adjuvant treatment. This is the treatment to reduce the risk of the cancer returning.
Your doctor may opt for radiotherapy, which uses controlled doses of radiation to kill any remaining cancer cells in the breast. If you have had a mastectomy you may need chest radiotherapy. You will receive three to five sessions a week for around three to six weeks.
If the cancer is large your doctor may decide on chemotherapy – a course of medication usually given through a drip or sometimes in capsule form. Depending on the extent of the cancer this will be in the form of a combination of medications to kill any remaining cancer cells. As this is an intensive treatment you will have sessions every two to three weeks over approximately four to eight months.
Sometimes the cancer is receptive to natural hormones in the body such as oestrogen and progesterone. If this is the case your doctor will suggest you take hormone therapy that lowers the levels of hormones in your body or restricts the effect they have. In most cases you will need to take this for around five years after surgery.
Some cancers grow due to a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 - or HER2. If you have a HER2-positive cancer you can receive targeted therapy that works at stopping the effects of HER2 and help fights off cancer cells. This will be in the form of an antibody called trastuzamab, which is administered through a drip. You will need sessions every three weeks if the breast cancer is at an early stage or weekly if it is more advanced.