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Treating Breast Cancer: Adjuvant Therapy

If you have breast cancer, you will have many treatment options. Before you decide which is best for you, weigh all of your choices. Be sure to discuss them with your doctor. Your options may include one or more types of adjuvant therapy. These are treatments used in addition to surgery.

Talk with your health care team or support network for more information about these treatments and your options.

Radiation therapy

Technician and patient

This treatment uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Most often, it is used to kill cancer cells that may remain in your breast after surgery. Radiation also helps keep breast cancer from coming back. You’ll likely have this treatment if you had a lumpectomy.


Technician and patient

This treatment is a type of medication that attacks cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be given before or after surgery. Or, it may be given on its own. It’s also used to help keep breast cancer from coming back. Your health care provider will decide if chemotherapy is right for you. Factors include the size of your tumor and where it has spread.

Hormone therapy

Technician and patient

Hormone therapy is used when cancer cells respond to estrogen and progesterone. These 2 hormones are normally made by the body. With cancer, the hormones bind to special sites called receptors on the cancer cells. This causes them to grow into tumors. To treat these types of tumors, 2 kinds of medications may be used.

  • Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs). These bind to hormone receptor-positive cancer cells and stop the cells from dividing.

  • Aromatase inhibitors. These reduce your body’s production of estrogen. With less estrogen to bind with, hormone receptor-positive cancer cells are less likely to grow.

Hormone therapy is the usual first-line treatment for people with hormone-receptive breast cancer that has spread.

Other therapies

Drugs, known as taxanes and HER2/Neu inhibitors, are tailored to tumor characteristics and can inhibit the growth of cancer cells.

Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 9/14/2013
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