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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Basics and You: Staging and Treatment


The extent (stage) of breast cancer needs to be determined to help choose the best treatment. The stage is based on the size of the cancer, whether it has invaded nearby tissues, or spread to other parts of the body. Staging may involve blood and other tests.


There are many options for treating breast cancer, including surgery, radiation therapy, hormone treatment, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. A person may receive more than one type. What is best for one woman may not be best for another.

Local Therapy

Surgery and radiation are types of local therapy, used to remove or destroy cancer in the breast.

Systemic Therapy

Hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy are types of systemic therapy. They enter the bloodstream and destroy or control cancer throughout the body.

Your Choices

The treatment that's right for you depends mainly on the stage of the cancer, the results of the hormone receptor tests, the result of the HER2/neu test, and your general health.

Clinical Trials

You may want to talk with your doctor about taking part in a clinical trial, a research study of new treatment methods. Clinical trials are an important option at any stage of breast cancer.

If you are interested in a clinical trial, talk with your doctor. You may want to read the National Cancer Institute (NCI) booklet Taking Part in Cancer Treatment Research Studies. It describes how treatment studies are carried out and explains their possible benefits and risks (for details see page 21).

The NCI Web site includes a section on clinical trials at It has general information about clinical trials, as well as detailed information about specific ongoing studies of breast cancer. Information specialists at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) or at LiveHelp at can answer questions and provide information about clinical trials.

Side Effects

Your doctor can describe your treatment choices, the expected results, and possible side effects. Because cancer therapy often damages healthy cells and tissues, side effects are common. Before treatment, ask your healthcare team how to prevent or reduce them, and how treatment may change your normal activities. Together, you and your healthcare team can develop a treatment plan that meets your medical and personal needs.

Treatment Experts

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist, or you may ask for a referral. Specialists who treat breast cancer include surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists. You may be referred to a plastic surgeon or reconstructive surgeon. Your healthcare team may also include an oncology nurse and a registered dietitian.

For more information

MedlinePlus: Breast Cancer

National Cancer Institute, NIH, HHS
Phone Number(s): (800) 322-8615; (301) 496-5583
Internet Address:

American Cancer Society
Phone Number(s): (800) 227-2345; (404) 329-7520
Internet Address:

National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program
Phone number(s): (888) 232-6348
Internet address:

Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
Phone number(s): (800) 465-6636
Internet address:

Breast Cancer Network of Strength
Phone number(s): (800) 221-2141
Internet address:

At any stage of disease, supportive care is available to control pain and other symptoms, to relieve the side effects of treatment, and to ease emotional concerns. Information about such care is available on the NCI Web site at and from the NCI Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) or at LiveHelp (

NCI book Taking Part in Clinical Trials
Internet address:

Spring / Summer 2010 Issue: Volume 5 Number 2 Page 19