Many breast cancers are treated by removing as much of the cancer as is possible, and then using one or more other therapies to kill or control any remaining cancerous cells. A lumpectomy removes the cancerous tissue while leaving the remaining breast tissue intact. A mastectomy is a more extensive procedure but can still vary in the amount of the breast removed. While mastectomy was once the preferred treatment even in early stage breast cancer, more choices have become available. Now, lumpectomy followed by radiation has been demonstrated to be as effective as a mastectomy in treating early stage breast cancer. In performing either a lumpectomy or mastectomy, a doctor may remove some or all of the lymph nodes under the arm to help assess whether the cancer has spread.
There is a great deal of new research being performed in the field of breast cancer treatment, and your doctor is your best source of information. A new experimental drug called T-DM1 which contains herceptin has recently shown promise in early trials in increasing survival time in patients with aggressive Her-2 positive breast cancers. However the drug is only experimental and is not approved as more research is needed. Other drugs, some with fewer side effects than older drugs, are being developed for treatment and there is still a lot of research into developing possible preventative drugs for those at high risk. Finally, there are promising gene-targeting drugs and vaccines, some of which are already being used on a limited, or trial, basis.