Breast Cancer

Breast cancer diagnosis

Although many people associate breast cancer diagnosis with the self-discovery of a lump, the fact is most breast lumps are not caused by cancer. In addition, many women with early breast cancer have no symptoms at all. Due to these factors, we recommend women talk to their doctors about regular manual breast exams, mammograms and other imaging techniques. Successful treatment is much more likely when breast cancer is detected early.

Why does breast cancer occur?

When first diagnosed with breast cancer, nearly all women wonder what caused it. Unfortunately, there is not always a simple answer or even an answer at all. Hormones seem to play a role in many cases of breast cancer, but just how this happens is not fully understood. A small percentage of cases can be attributed to inherited genes, exposure to estrogen or prolonged alcohol consumption. However, in most cases, breast cancer is spontaneous and cannot be accounted for by genetics or environmental exposure.

How is breast cancer treated?

We’ve found that the most effective treatment of breast cancer often requires more than one type of care. Several factors will influence your care plan, including your overall health, your age and medical history, the type and stage of your breast cancer, and your goals and preferences for treatment. We will talk with you to discuss these factors and together we will determine your best course of treatment.

Methods of breast cancer treatment include local options—surgery and radiation therapy—and systemic options— chemotherapy and anti-hormonal therapy.


Initial treatment for breast cancer often includes surgery to remove the affected tissue. The surgery may be one of the following:

  • Lumpectomy – A breast-conserving surgical procedure that involves removal of the cancer and some surrounding breast tissue.
  • Simple or total mastectomy – Removal of the entire breast containing cancer.
  • Modified radical mastectomy – Removal of the entire breast along with underarm lymph node.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation Therapy is a technique for the treatment of cancer and other diseases using intense beams of x-rays or other types of electromagnetic energy. Radiation kills cancer cells within the body by damaging the genetic material that allows the cell to divide and grow. Modern forms of radiation therapy are able to precisely target cancerous tissue while minimizing damage to the surrounding healthy tissue that is free of disease.


Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer medication to treat cancerous cells. There are many different kinds of chemotherapy drugs, including oral and intravenous options. Treatments are often given in cycles, alternating treatment periods and periods of recovery.

Anti-Hormonal Therapy

In some breast cancer cases, the hormone estrogen causes the affected cells to grow. These tumors are known to be estrogen-receptor-positive. Anti-hormonal therapy uses medication to prevent estrogen from stimulating further tumor growth.

Types of treatment by stage of breast cancer

Staging indicates the severity of a person’s cancer and is integral in determining the appropriate treatment.

Stage 1 breast cancer is confined to the breast

Stage 1 cancers can be treated with surgery, by a lumpectomy, partial mastectomy or mastectomy. The lymph nodes will also be evaluated. Breast reconstruction may be done at the same time as surgery. Radiation therapy is usually given after breast-conserving surgery.

Stage 2 breast cancer involves the breast and lymph nodes

LOCAL THERAPY: Surgery and radiation therapy are similar to those for stage 1 tumors, except that in stage 2, radiation therapy to the chest wall may be considered if the tumor is large or cancer cells are found in several lymph nodes.


Surgery and radiation therapy are similar to those for stage 1 tumors, except that in stage 2, radiation therapy to the chest wall may be considered if the tumor is large or cancer cells are found in several lymph nodes.

Stage 3 involves the breast and nodes and is locally advanced

Local treatment for some stage 3 breast cancers is largely the same as that for stage 2 breast cancers. Tumors that are small enough and have not grown into nearby tissues may be removed by lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy.

Often, stage 3 cancers are treated with chemotherapy before surgery. This may shrink the tumor enough that only a lumpectomy or other breast-conserving surgery is needed. Otherwise, the breast is treated with mastectomy.

Stage 4 breast cancer has spread outside the breast to other organs, commonly the lungs, liver, bones or brain.

Although surgery and/or radiation may be useful in some cases, systemic therapy is the main treatment.


For patients diagnosed with breast cancer, Affinity Health System offers several American Cancer Society support programs:

  • I Can Cope
  • Reach to Recovery
  • Look Good, Feel Better

Additional cancer support services include Woman to Woman counseling, wig services and nutritional therapy.

Call for more information:

Michael D. Wachtel Cancer Center
Mercy Medical Center

St. Elizabeth Hospital Cancer Center

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1506 S. Oneida St
Appleton, WI 54915
(920) 738-2000

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