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Home > Comman Type of Cancer > Breast Cancer Therapies

Breast Cancer Therapies

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. The radiation may be directed at the breast by a machine (external radiation). The radiation can also come from radioactive material placed in thin plastic tubes that are placed directly in the breast (implant radiation). Some women have both kinds of radiation therapy.

For external radiation therapy, the patient goes to the hospital or clinic, generally 5 days a week for several weeks. For implant radiation, a patient stays in the hospital. The implants remain in place for several days. They are removed before the woman goes home.

Sometimes, depending on the size of the tumor and other factors, radiation therapy is used after surgery, especially after breast-sparing surgery. The radiation destroys any breast cancer cells that may remain in the area.

Before surgery, radiation therapy, alone or with chemotherapy or hormonal therapy, is sometimes used to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. This approach is most often used in cases in which the breast tumor is large or not easily removed by surgery.
Before having radiation therapy, a patient may want to ask her doctor these questions:
  • Why do I need this treatment?
  • What are the risks and side effects of this treatment?
  • Are there any long-term effects?
  • When will the breast cancer treatments begin? When will they end?
  • How will I feel during therapy?
  • What can I do to take care of myself during therapy?
  • Can I continue my normal activities?
  • How will my breast look afterward?
  • What are the chances that the tumor will come back in my breast?


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy for breast cancer is usually a combination of drugs. The drugs may be given in a pill or by injection. Either way, the drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.

Most patients have chemotherapy in an outpatient part of the hospital, at the doctor's office, or at home. Depending on which drugs are given and her general health, however, a woman may need to stay in the hospital during her treatment.

Hormonal therapy keeps cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow. This breast cancer treatment may include the use of drugs that change the way hormones work, or surgery to remove the ovaries, which make female hormones. Like chemotherapy, hormonal therapy can affect cancer cells throughout the body.

Biological therapy is a treatment designed to enhance the body's natural defenses against cancer. For example, Herceptin® (trastuzumab) is a monoclonal antibody that targets breast cancer cells that have too much of a protein known as human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER-2). By blocking HER-2, Herceptin slows or stops the growth of these cells. Herceptin may be given by itself or along with chemotherapy.

Patients may want to ask these questions about systemic therapy (chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, or biological therapy):
  • Why do I need this treatment?
  • If I need hormonal treatment, which would be better for me, drugs or an operation?
  • What drugs will I be taking? What will they do?
  • Will I have side effects? What can I do about them?
  • How long will I be on this treatment?
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