Many breast cancers are treated by removing as much of the cancer as is possible, and then using one or more other therapies to kill or control any remaining cancerous cells. A lumpectomy removes the cancerous tissue while leaving the remaining breast tissue intact. A mastectomy is a more extensive procedure but can still vary in the amount of the breast removed. While mastectomy was once the preferred treatment even in early stage breast cancer, more choices have become available. Now, lumpectomy followed by radiation has been demonstrated to be as effective as a mastectomy in treating early stage breast cancer. In performing either a lumpectomy or mastectomy, a doctor may remove some or all of the lymph nodes under the arm to help assess whether the cancer has spread.
There is a great deal of new research being performed in the field of breast cancer treatment, and your doctor is your best source of information. New drugs, called aromatase inhibitors, can stop the production of oestrogen in postmenopausal women with hormone-sensitive cancers. Other drugs, some with fewer side effects than older drugs, are being developed for treatment. Finally, there are promising gene-targeting drugs and vaccines, some of which are already being used on a limited or trial basis.