When determining your breast cancer treatment plan, many factors need to be considered. These include the stage of your disease, whether it’s a new diagnosis or a recurrence of disease, tumor marker status, menopausal status, your age, prior treatment(s), and your overall health and lifestyle. 

There are several different options for treating breast cancer. The following table lists the most common initial treatment options for patients with newly diagnosed or recurrent breast cancer:

Initial Disease Stage at Diagnosis
Most Common Initial Treatment Options
Stage 0
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
Surgery radiation hormonal treatment

Stage I, II, and some IIIA Surgery + lymph node dissection if lymph node-positive ± radiation ± chemotherapy ± hormonal treatment

Stage IIIB/C Chemotherapy to shrink the tumor before surgery + surgery + radiation ± postsurgical chemotherapy ± hormonal treatment or chemotherapy ± radiation ± hormonal treatment

Stage IV Hormonal treatment, chemotherapy, targeted agents, clinical trials of new agents, or palliative care to reduce breast cancer symptoms

(local, regional, or distant)
Hormonal treatment chemotherapy novel targeted therapy

While there are several different ways to treat breast cancer, all options can be divided into two categories local treatment and systemic treatment.

  • Local treatment is directed only at the cancer cells in the breast area. Surgery and radiation are the two local treatments for treating breast cancer. Local treatments treat only a specific area of the body and are often used in combination with systemic treatment. Systemic treatment may be used to help reduce the risk for recurrence after local treatment is completed
  • Systemic treatment is the use of medications that travel in the bloodstream to affect or treat cancer cells. Systemic treatments include chemotherapy, hormonal treatment, and novel targeted therapies. They are often used in combination with local treatment in early breast cancer. Systemic treatments may also be used alone in more advanced stages when cancer has spread to other parts of the body

We prided ourselves on our ability to provide newly diagnosed breast cancer patients with immediate and comprehensive explanations about their breast cancer. Most women were not ready to absorb these intricate details in the first days after being diagnosed. We still see the patient and her family immediately following diagnosis, and attempt to answer all questions. Now, however, a major focus of the initial discussion is to ensure that the patient is emotionally prepared to go forward with the process.