Breast cancer treatment is a continuum, from what is considered early breast cancer to advanced or metastatic.
Early breast cancer usually implies that the cancer is only detectable in the breast and surrounding lymph nodes, particularly in the axilla (the armpit). Doctors have divided early breast cancer into stages I, II and III.
If the cancer can be found outside the breast and axillary lymph nodes, it is called metastatic, which is designated stage IV. Metastatic breast cancer is most often found in the bones, liver, lung or lymph nodes outside the axilla, although it can occur in any organ. Even though it is growing in these organs, it is still considered breast cancer. When breast cancer spreads to the bone, for example, it is not bone cancer, so its treatment follows breast cancer protocols, which are different from primary bone cancer protocols.
Breast cancer is further defined by whether it expresses the hormone receptors estrogen or progesterone. This is described as ER-positive and PR-positive. Tumors are also tested for a protein called HER2. Patients will receive specific treatments based on whether their tumors express ER, PR and HER2.
Kinds of Treatment
Treatment for breast cancer is unique to each patient and may include:
Still have questions?
The nurses at Cancer AnswerLine™ have answers. Call 1-800-865-1125 and you'll get a personal response from one of our registered nurses, who have years of experience in caring for people with cancer.