Types of Treatment

Local therapy
The most effective treatment for breast cancer involves its removal by surgery. It is easiest to treat a cancer when it is small and before it has had a chance to spread to other parts of the breast or the body. Many women with early breast cancer successfully have the abnormal tissue removed and retain their breasts. Some however need to have a full mastectomy to try to remove all the cancer. This can depend on the size of the cancer relative to the size of the breast.

If you choose or have been advised to have total removal of the breast, known as a mastectomy, you can opt for a breast reconstruction. This can be done at the time of the breast surgery or any time afterwards. If you have had a partial mastectomy or lumpectomy you will require local radiotherapy to kill any cancer cells in the remaining breast.

Depending on all of the findings from surgery, further treatment may be recommended in the form of radiotherapy, hormone-blocking  treatment, or chemotherapy. It is very important that you understand all the options available so you can make an informed choice about your treatment.

Systemic Therapy
Systemic therapy – so-called because it treats the entire body or “system” – usually follows surgery and is known as adjuvant therapy.  If it is given before surgery to reduce the size of a tumour it is called neoadjuvant therapy. This kind of therapy includes chemotherapy and hormone therapy, and is used to kill any cancer cells that may have escaped from the breast and spread to other parts of the body.

When cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, your chances of long-term survival can be improved and the risk of cancer recurring can be reduced by the use of systemic therapy following surgery. Everyone is different however, and you should discuss with your doctor the pros and cons of systemic therapy in your case.

Clinical trials
Before doctors can accept a new therapy for use as a standard treatment, clinical trials are conducted to determine its effectiveness. New therapies can be more effective and have fewer side effects than older ones. Many specialists in New Zealand participate in clinical trials both locally and internationally. Discuss with your doctor whether any therapies undergoing clinical trials are available that would be appropriate in your case.