Breast cancer treatments and classifications
Learn more about breast cancer treatments, as well as the types, grades, and stages of breast cancer.
There are a wide range of treatments for breast cancer. You and your cancer care team will determine the type of treatment or combination of treatments appropriate for you in your cancer journey by your type and stage of breast cancer.
If you or someone you know is diagnosed with breast cancer, you will likely be treated with one or more of the common treatments below. Learn more about breast cancer treatments, as well as the types, grades, and stages of breast cancer below.
- Surgery including lumpectomy or mastectomy.
- A lumpectomy is considered a breast-conserving surgery, and the goal of the procedure is to remove the cancer and some of the surrounding normal tissue, but leave the remainder of the breast intact.
- A mastectomy removes the entire breast.
- To learn more about lumpectomy and mastectomy, visit Lumpectomy vs. mastectomy: what to know on the Sarah Cannon website.
- Chemotherapy is administered prior to surgery to shrink cancer cells (preoperative therapy or neoadjuvant therapy) or after surgery (postoperative therapy or adjuvant therapy) to prevent cancer cells from returning.
- Hormonal therapy blocks hormones (estrogen and progesterone) in certain types of tumors that are driven off the female hormones.
- Targeted therapy uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells.
- Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays through either external radiation (sending radiation from outside the body to the cancer) or internal radiation (placing a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, or wires directly into or near the cancer).
Types, grades, and stages of breast cancer
Breast cancer patients can receive up to three different classifications for their breast cancer: type, grade, and stage. It is important to know your specific diagnosis so you can better understand your treatment plan.
There are two main types of breast cancer, which differ in their points of origin in the breast.
- Ductal carcinoma - begins in the cells that line the milk ducts in the breast, also called the lining of the breast ducts.
- Lobular carcinoma - begins in the lobes, or lobules (the glands that make milk) of the breast.
Breast cancer grades refer to how close the biopsy sample looks to normal breast tissue and how rapidly the cancer cells are dividing. The lower the number, the slower the cancer is growing, making it less likely to spread.
Staging identifies if the cancer has spread within the breast or to other parts of the body.
- Stage 0 (ductal carcinoma in situ or DCIS) - has not spread beyond the actual tumor.
- Stage I, II & III - Stage I is smaller in size, is less likely to have lymph node involvement, and has lower risk molecular features. Stage III is larger and is more likely to have lymph node involvement or other high risk molecular features.
- Stage IV - cancer has spread to other organs of the body, most often the bones, lungs, liver, or brain.