Breast Cancer Treatment by Stage

Treatment for Stage 0 Breast Cancer

Stage 0 breast cancer refers to lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).



Most women with LCIS do not receive treatment for breast cancer. Instead, the doctor may suggest regular checkups to watch for signs of breast cancer.


Some women take tamoxifen (a breast cancer hormone treatment) to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.


Having LCIS in one breast can increase the risk of cancer in both breasts. A small number of women with LCIS try to prevent cancer by having surgery to remove both breasts. This is called a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy. The surgeon usually does not remove the underarm lymph nodes.



Most women with DCIS have breast-sparing surgery followed by radiation therapy. Some women choose to have a total mastectomy. Underarm lymph nodes are not usually removed.


Women with DCIS may receive tamoxifen to reduce the risk of developing invasive breast cancer.


Treatment for Stage I, II, IIIA, and Operable IIIC Breast Cancers

Women with stage I, II, IIIA, and operable IIIC breast cancer may have a combination of treatments. (Operable means that the cancer can be treated with surgery.) Some may have breast-sparing surgery followed by radiation therapy to the breast. This choice is common for women with stage I or II breast cancer. Others may decide to have a mastectomy.


With either approach, women (especially those with stage II or IIIA breast cancer) often have lymph nodes under the arm removed. The doctor may suggest radiation therapy after mastectomy if cancer cells are found in 1 to 3 lymph nodes under the arm, or if the tumor in the breast is large. If cancer cells are found in more than 3 lymph nodes under the arm, the doctor usually will suggest radiation therapy after mastectomy.


The choice between breast-sparing surgery (followed by radiation therapy) and mastectomy depends on many factors:


  • The size, location, and stage of the tumor
  • The size of the woman's breast
  • Certain features of the cancer
  • How the woman feels about saving her breast
  • How the woman feels about radiation therapy
  • The woman's ability to travel to a radiation treatment center.

Some women undergo chemotherapy before surgery. This is called neoadjuvant therapy (treatment before the main treatment). Chemotherapy before surgery may shrink a large tumor so that breast-sparing surgery is possible. Women with large stage II or IIIA breast tumors often choose this treatment.


After surgery, many women receive adjuvant therapy for breast cancer. Adjuvant therapy is treatment given after the main treatment to increase the chances of a cure. Radiation treatment can kill cancer cells in and near the breast. Women also may have systemic treatment, such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or both. This treatment can destroy cancer cells that remain anywhere in the body. It can prevent the cancer from coming back in the breast or elsewhere.


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