At MD Anderson, we customize your breast cancer care so you receive the most-advanced, least-invasive treatments with the fewest side effects. In addition to treatments you might find at most breast cancer centers, we offer specialized therapies available at only a few centers in the nation.
Our Breast Cancer Treatments
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, your doctor will talk to you about the best options for treating it. Your treatment will be customized especially for you, and it may include one or more of the following therapies.
Like all surgeries, breast cancer surgery is most successful when performed by a specialist with a great deal of experience in the particular procedure. MD Anderson’s breast cancer surgeons are among the most skilled and renowned in the world. They perform a large number of surgeries for breast cancer each year, using the least-invasive and most-effective techniques. If reconstructive surgery is needed, our experts use the most advanced procedures with extraordinary skill.
Surgery is the most common treatment for breast cancer. Procedures may include:
Mastectomy: This surgery removes one or both breasts. The entire breast is removed, along with any affected lymph nodes. In about 80% of mastectomies, breast reconstruction or implant surgery is done during the same procedure, after the breast is removed.
Breast-sparing surgery is an attempt to save as much healthy breast tissue as possible. These procedures are best for treating early stage (I and II) breast cancer. Breast-sparing techniques include:
Lumpectomy: The tumor and a small margin of healthy breast tissue are removed.
Partial mastectomy: The tumor is removed, along with a margin of healthy breast tissue. The lining of the chest muscles and any affected lymph nodes under the arm are removed also.
Breast reconstruction: using either breast implants or tissue from your abdomen or other parts of your body, the surgeon can recreate a breast either during the cancer surgery (immediate reconstruction) or after surgery (delayed reconstruction). Learn more with our guide to breast reconstruction.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells. New radiation therapy techniques and remarkable skill allow MD Anderson doctors to target tumors more precisely, delivering the maximum amount of radiation with the least damage to healthy cells.
Radiation therapy treatments available at MD Anderson include:
Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT): MD Anderson pioneered the use of this type of radiotherapy for breast cancer. IMRT may lead to improved outcomes and less impact on your body than other types of radiation therapy.
Accelerated partial breast irradiation (APBI): an internal, localized form of radiation treatment (brachytherapy) that involves the insertion of radioactive "seeds" to kill breast cancer cells that may remain after lumpectomy surgery. The catheter device that delivers the radioactive seeds remains in place during the course of APBI treatment, usually about 8-10 days, before the seeds are withdrawn.
Women who have breast-sparing surgery and/or mastectomy may receive radiation afterward to destroy any lingering breast cancer cells. Radiation also can be used before surgery to shrink large tumors or to treat tumors in a difficult location.
In breast cancer, chemotherapy most often is given before or after surgery. It also may be the main treatment for cancer that has spread outside the breast.
MD Anderson offers the most up-to-date and effective chemotherapy options for breast cancer. Our experts helped develop many drugs now used as standard care at other centers, as well as novel approaches to administer them.
We were among the first to demonstrate that chemotherapy can be safe to treat breast cancer after the first trimester of pregnancy. And we pioneered the use of chemotherapy before surgery to shrink breast cancer tumors, reducing damage to surrounding tissue.
Hormone therapy sometimes helps prevent female hormones (estrogen, progesterone and estradiol) from fueling the growth of breast cancer. Hormone therapy can involve taking drugs by mouth or through an IV. Tamoxifen® is an example of a hormone therapy drug.
Surgery to remove the ovaries in women who have not yet reached menopause is another type of hormone therapy.
Targeted therapies are drug treatments that help the body’s immune system fight cancer. Herceptin® is a type of biologic therapy that targets cells that produce too much of a protein called HER2. This protein is present in some breast cancer patients. Herceptin binds to the cells, shutting off HER2 production.
Treatment at MD Anderson
Breast cancer is treated in our Nellie B. Connally Breast Center.
MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering
promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.
Find the latest news and information about breast cancer in our
Knowledge Center, including blog posts, articles, videos, news
releases and more.
After finding lumps in my right breast and lymph node area in January
2014, I was diagnosed with stage three triple-negative breast cancer.
This was a tremendous shock because I'd had a clear mammogram only six
To fight my very aggressive, very high-risk cancer, I immediately began five months of intense chemotherapy, followed by two surgeries and six weeks of radiation. Currently, there is no targeted therapy for triple-negative breast cancer, which made my diagnosis especially daunting.
MD Anderson's no-lose option for triple-negative breast cancer treatment
It was supremely comforting to be at MD Anderson. Triple-negative breast cancer is rare and difficult to treat, but MD Anderson is focusing on improving treatment through their Moon Shots Program , an effort to reduce cancer deaths.
Because I was blessed to be treated at MD Anderson, I felt confident
I could rely completely on the expertise of my incomparable dream team
of doctors -- Sharon
Giordano, M.D., Beth Mittendorf, M.D., Ph.D., Eric Strom,
M.D., and Melissa Crosby, M.D. My outstanding medical team fully
rewarded my trust. By tweaking the approach of a cooperative group
study presented shortly before my diagnosis, they provided me a true
A standard triple-negative chemo regimen is 12 weeks of taxol, followed by four doses of adriamycin and cytoxan. In the new study, doctors gave patients an additional chemo drug called carboplatin. The study showed that this treatment was successful for 54 percent of women who took carboplatin, compared to only 40 percent of those who didn't take carboplatin. Yet, because carboplatin is highly toxic, some women could not tolerate it and had to stop their chemotherapy early.
My brilliant team addressed this problem by reversing the order of
the drugs. It was a no-lose option I enthusiastically embraced. Had I
not been able to tolerate carboplatin, I could have dropped it, but
still completed the full standard course of chemotherapy.
Life after triple-negative breast cancer treatment
I finished my chemotherapy at the end of June. The tumors responded the way we had hoped. Thankfully, chemotherapy cleared all of the cancer in my lymph nodes, and left only 2 percent of the tumor in my breast. My extremely positive response reduced my likelihood of recurrence from about 60 percent to 15 to 20 percent. The only side effect I still suffer is neuropathy in my hands and feet.
Now, I only can play a waiting game. It is difficult to hear some
other cancer survivors complain about "having" to continue
to take a daily pill to prevent recurrence. I -- and I am sure most
with triple-negative tumors -- would be thrilled to have that
Because I lacked that option, I approached the end of radiation -- the end of my active treatment -- with dread, not with elation. In fact, the day before my last radiation was one of my lowest points emotionally during my entire nine months of treatment. For those many months, my primary focus had been fighting my cancer aggressively.
I felt sad that I could not continue working to prevent recurrence.
Plus, my wonderful MD Anderson team had become like a second family
I knew I would miss seeing regularly. So I was ambivalent about
ringing the bell and did not really feel like celebrating.
Surprisingly, though, I rebounded fairly quickly, adapting to my new normal. Most importantly, I am hopeful for the future and confident that through its Moon Shots Program, MD Anderson will find a successful targeted treatment for triple-negative breast cancer and end the waiting game for future triple-negative breast cancer patients.
Breast cancer and ovarian cancer are two areas MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about our Breast and Ovarian Cancers Moon Shot.