Breast Cancer Therapies

Doctors at the Breast Cancer Program at the GW Cancer Center may use the following therapies separately, or in combination with surgery, to treat breast cancer.

External Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is a common type of treatment generally used postoperatively (lumpectomy or mastectomy)to kill any remaining cancer cells and to reduce the likelihood of future recurrence of the cancer.During therapy, radiation is directed to the breast, chest wall and/or lymph nodes from a machine located outside of the body. To optimize treatment, radiation is given daily for several weeks.


Chemotherapy drugs can be given intravenously or orally to kill cancer cells that are present in the body. Treatment generally lasts four to six months and can include such side effects as nausea, hair loss, weight gain and general fatigue. In recent years, however, these side effects have been minimized due to the development of new medications and the ability to administer more precise doses of chemotherapy.

Hormonal Therapy

Hormonal therapy inhibits the ability of natural hormones in the body, such as estrogen and progesterone, to join with cancer cells and encourage their growth and multiplication. The treatment is generally administered in cases where the cancer cells test positive for estrogen and progesterone receptors. With hormonal therapy you will need to be followed carefully to minimize side effects. Hormone therapy may include a medication called tamoxifen.

Tamoxifen interferes with the activity of estrogen by slowing or stopping the growth of cancer cells already present in the body. Used after surgery, tamoxifen has been shown to help prevent the original breast cancer from returning. It has also been shown to decrease the risk of the development of new cancers in the other breast. Tamoxifen may also be used in women who are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer, but who do not have breast cancer, to effectively decrease their risk of developing the disease.