Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are the most common treatment types for cancer and may be used alone or in combination to treat breast cancer. Your doctor will plan your treatment by taking the type and size of your tumour into consideration, whether the cancer has spread, your age and your general health.

The most appropriate type of surgery depends on the size of the cancer and whether or not it has spread. If the cancer is in its early stages, it may be completely removed by this method. If the cancer cells have spread, your doctor may consider using surgery in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation to alleviate the symptoms.

  • Lumpectomy
    In this procedure, the breast lump and some surrounding tissues are removed. This method removes the least amount of breast tissue.

  • Segmentectomy (wide local excision)
    This procedure is similar to a lumpectomy, but it involves removing more breast tissue and it may be more visually noticeable.

  • Mastectomy
    This involves removal of the whole breast and it may be necessary because:

    • The breast lump is large

    • A small cancer is surrounded by a large area of ductal carcinoma in situ (presence of abnormal cells inside a milk duct in the breast)

    • There are several areas of cancer cells in different parts of the breast

    • The lump is located just behind the nipple

Women undergoing a mastectomy can elect to use breast prostheses or undergo breast reconstructive surgery. The reconstructive surgery usually uses fat taken from elsewhere in the body, or specially made saline implants to restore the contour and shape of breasts. Please seek advice from your doctor to decide the best option for you.

  • Lymph gland removal
    In any breast cancer operation, lymph glands will usually be removed from under the arm on the side of the breast with cancer.

  • Breast reconstruction
    It’s often possible for a woman who’s had a mastectomy to have breast reconstruction. This can be done at the same time as the mastectomy, or at a later stage.

For personalised advice on surgery, consult our oncology nurse at our CancerLink support centres. You could also join our free programmes to learn more about: health management after breast surgery, how to use a prosthesis, exercise programmes that reduce the effect of lymphedema, and  yoga programmes specially designed for breast cancer patients following surgery.

For more information on these services, call our helpline on 3656 0800

If you want to know more about surgery, visit our page on coping with treatment.

Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells. The two main types of radiotherapy used to treat breast cancer are external radiotherapy and internal radiotherapy.

If you want to know more about radiotherapy visit our page on coping with treatment.

Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs which work by disrupting the growth of cancer cells. The drugs are sometimes given orally, or more usually intravenously (injection into a vein). Doctors may advise having chemotherapy and radiotherapy together, before or after surgery, to minimise the chances of cancer returning. It’s also used when cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body.

If you want to know more about chemotherapy, visit our page on coping with treatment.

Hormone therapy
Hormone therapy can slow or stop the growth of breast cancer cells by altering the levels of certain female hormones that are produced naturally in the body. This prevents them from being absorbed by the cancer cells.

With advances in technology, there are now many more ways to treat breast cancer. Oncologists will tailor your treatment plan to your specific condition and the nature of your cancer. It is important for all women to check their breasts regularly as early detection saves lives and makes more treatment options possible.

Side effects
Cancer treatments can cause a range of side effects. For more information on common side effects and tips on how to cope, please click here.