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Treatment of early breast cancer

By Sandra Melville and Lucy Heycock

Breast cancer

Chris Bjornberg/SPL

Although the incidence of breast cancer is increasing, screening programmes and developments in pharmacological therapies have caused mortality rates to drop.

In cancer centres, pharmacists are becoming key players in the management of breast cancer patients, with an increasing number undertaking prescribing roles. However, by being aware of the challenges that these patients face, and having an understanding of the mechanisms underlying the toxicities associated with treatment, community pharmacists can offer a valuable, proactive and much needed service.

Neoadjuvant therapy

Treatment that aims to shrink large tumours before surgery is called neoadjuvant therapy. With regard to breast cancer, this can include chemotherapy and hormonal therapy.


Surgery is usually the first-line treatment.Two well-established, surgical procedures for local treatment of invasive breast cancer are mastectomy (removal of the whole breast) and conservation surgery (where the tumour and a margin of surrounding normal tissue are excised).

Adjuvant therapy

After surgery, most patients will be advised to have therapy to to reduce the risk of recurrence or metastatic disease. This is known as adjuvant therapy.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10027813

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