What is adjuvant therapy for breast cancer?
Adjuvant therapy for breast cancer is any treatment given after primary therapy to increase the chance of long-term disease-free survival. Primary therapy is the main treatment used to reduce or eliminate the cancer. Primary therapy for breast cancer usually includes surgery—a mastectomy (removal of the breast) or a lumpectomy (surgery to remove the tumor and a small amount of normal tissue around it; a type of breast-conserving surgery). During either type of surgery, one or more nearby lymph nodes are also removed to see if cancer cells have spread to the lymphatic system. When a woman has breast-conserving surgery, primary therapy almost always includes radiation therapy.
Even in early-stage breast cancer, cells may break away from the primary tumor and spread to other parts of the body (metastasize). Therefore, doctors give adjuvant therapy to kill any cancer cells that may have spread, even if they cannot be detected by imaging or laboratory tests. Studies have shown that adjuvant therapy for breast cancer may increase the chance of long-term survival by preventing a recurrence
What types of adjuvant therapies are used for breast cancer?
Most adjuvant therapies are systemic: They use substances that travel through the bloodstream, reaching and affecting cancer cells all over the body. Adjuvant therapy for breast cancer can include chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, the targeted drug trastuzumab (Herceptin®), radiation therapy, or a combination of treatments.
What is neoadjuvant therapy?
Neoadjuvant therapy is treatment given before primary therapy. A woman may receive neoadjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer to shrink a tumor that is inoperable in its current state, so it can be surgically removed. A woman whose tumor can be removed by mastectomy may instead receive neoadjuvant therapy to shrink the tumor enough to allow breast-conserving surgery.