Can You Ever Be Cured of Breast Cancer?

Ask a Doctor

I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, and I’ve gone through harrowing rounds of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. My doctor said I’m currently in remission, but I live in fear my cancer could return. Can you ever be cured of cancer?

Doctor’s Response

The answer is yes, with caveats. In particular, noninvasive (in situ) cancers are associated with a very high cure rate, but even advanced tumors have been successfully treated.

Due to improved screening and awareness of breast cancer coupled with advances in therapy, death rates from breast cancer have been continuously declining since 1990. It is important to remember that breast cancer is a highly treatable disease and that screening for breast cancer often enables the detection of tumors at their earliest stages when treatment has the best chance for success.

Still, people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer need careful follow-up care for life. Initial follow-up care after completion of treatment is usually every three to six months for the first two to three years. This follow-up protocol is based on the individual circumstances and treatments received.

HER2-positive tumors tend to grow faster than tumors that do not express the HER2 protein. However, recurrence rates vary and depend upon more than simply the HER2 status of the tumor. Like other breast cancers, recurrence rates depend upon the extent of spread of the tumor at the time of diagnosis (stage) of the tumor along with other characteristics of the tumor. The development of anti-HER2 therapies (discussed previously) has significantly improved the outlook for patients with HER2-positive breast cancer.

A long-term ongoing study is looking at 50,000 women whose sisters had breast cancer and will collect information from these women over a period of 10 years. The influence of diet and lifestyle factors that may influence cancer development or progression is of particular interest to researchers.

Other types of research are directed at identification of additional cellular targets (such as the HER2 protein) that may be useful for the development of new therapies for breast cancer. The development of new chemotherapy agents is being studied as well as the effectiveness of newer and different radiotherapy regimens.

Surgical therapies are also being improved and advances in surgical technique are being investigated to improve both surgical removal of breast cancers and breast reconstruction following tumor removal.

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References
American Cancer Society. "Breast Cancer Overview." <http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/overviewguide/>.

Stopeck, Alison T. "Breast Cancer." Medscape.com. Sept. 16, 2014. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1947145-overview#aw2aab6b2b7>.

United States. National Cancer Institute. "Breast Cancer." Sept. 26, 2012. <http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/breast>.