Breast Cancer Treatment Options

On the Forefront: Giving You Access to the Latest Treatments

A breast cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to be devastating. Breast cancer survival rates have climbed significantly and breast cancer survivors now represent the largest number of cancer survivors in the country. Options for therapy are improving your choices and minimizing the disruption you’ll experience during treatment. At UC San Diego, we're pioneering new technologies, new therapies and new approaches, and our patients have first access to them.

Most important, we understand that breast cancer is not a single disease. Our physicians and researchers keep current on innovative ways to identify and treat your particular breast cancer, and we discuss every patient during our weekly Breast Conference with the entire medical team.

Your Treatment Plan

We make every effort to see new patients within a few days of diagnosis. You will usually first meet with your surgeon and plastic surgeon, sometimes at the same time, usually during the same visit to the cancer center. You’ll discuss what our pathologists have found out about your cancer and review recommendations and options for treatment. Many factors are analyzed, including:

  • Size and location of the lesion
  • Biopsy results (cancer cell composition, stage and constitution)
  • Involvement of lymph nodes
  • Type of cancer and how aggressive it is

It is at this point that surgical options are discussed. Many patients may be candidates for breast conservation instead of a mastectomy. Some patients may qualify for pre-surgical clinical trials that are testing ways to diminish tumors before surgical removal.

Types of Treatment

Radiation Therapy

If your treatment plan includes radiation therapy, UC San Diego’s advanced technologies include state-of-the-art linear accelerators. These image-guided radiation therapy systems offer virtually unmatched precision, power and speed in pinpointing and destroying tumors. With this high degree of selectivity in targeting cancer cells, you’ll benefit from less damage to healthy cells, fewer complications and faster treatments. For more information, see Radiation Therapy.

Chemotherapy (Infusion Therapy)

Today’s chemotherapy drugs are often medicines you can take at home. If you need infusion therapy, which is a course of drugs delivered intravenously, you’ll come to our Infusion Center. You’ll see windows overlooking a garden and comfortable chairs that let you put up your feet as you read a book, chat with a family member or talk to other patients. You can pull a privacy curtain if you prefer or you can stroll outside and sit in the garden during your therapy. The center provides snacks or you can bring your own luncheon with you or purchase something from the coffee cart.

Infusion Center nurses can equip you with a central catheter line for your safety and convenience. If you’re having regular treatment or need frequent blood draws, this option may be more comfortable and efficient for you.

Gene Therapy

Our understanding of breast cancer, including how genetics contribute to the disease, is advancing rapidly. We now use genetic testing to predict who will respond to a certain treatment. The goal is to match each patient with the best drug for a particular tumor. (For more about this process, see Moores Cancer Center's Personalized Cancer Therapy.) 

Over the last decade, researchers have been studying the changes in cancer cell DNA, identifying extra copies of genes (known as amplification), in particular a gene called HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor-2) that controls how cells grow, divide and repair themselves. Knowing specific profiles of cancer cells can signal clinicians about the optimal treatment approaches to take.

UC San Diego Health System has been integrally involved in the development of Herceptin, a targeted therapy that’s demonstrating dramatic effectiveness in curing localized HER2-overexpressing breast cancer.

As Dr. Richard Schwab, a UC San Diego oncologist, puts it: “We are changing the natural history of breast cancer by identifying specific changes and providing individual care.”

Clinical Trials

In addition to standard approaches to treating your breast cancer, you may qualify for a clinical trial, which is a final stage of research that involves patient participation in the most promising therapies and advanced technologies. Your physician will advise you if you quality for one or more of the studies currently being conducted. For more information, see Research and Clinical Trials.

Breast Reconstruction Options

Reconstructive surgery can be performed at the same time as the cancer surgery. This approach usually provides a better outcome and eliminates a subsequent operation and the additional recovery process. Learn more about breast reconstruction.

Weekly Breast Conferences

One of the hallmarks of the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center is the weekly Breast Conference, a meeting of the minds of breast cancer clinicians who review each breast cancer case in depth.

This is where the entire medical team – radiologists, pathologists, surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and nurses – collaborate to review and discuss findings and options, reviewing individual cases and sharing opinions and information.

“Breast cancer is a complicated disease,” said Anne Wallace, M.D., FACS, surgical oncologist, reconstructive surgeon and director of the UC San Diego Comprehensive Breast Health Center. “It’s easy to miss something. Each patient needs a lot of time and a lot of expertise.”

Wallace believes that these multidisciplinary case reviews provide patients with the most comprehensive and circumspect evaluation and monitoring of their individual case, resulting in optimal care through integration of the clinical care team.

In addition, the physicians also have a weekly Breast Research Conference with the Clinical Trials Office, where they discuss clinical trial progress and new clinical trials they want to bring to Moores Cancer Center patients.