In the western world six out of every seven patients can now be cured if diagnosis is at the early stage. However, if they are diagnosed when it has become advanced, the cure rate falls to about one in seven. It is extremely important to catch breast cancer at an early stage.
The main treatment for breast cancer is surgery. In most cases, conservative surgery is used, which preserves the shape and appearance of the breast. For very early breast cancer, only the lump and a small area of tissue around it is removed. For later stage breast cancer, much more tissue is removed but it is replaced with muscle to rebuild the breast. Since breast cancer cells usually spread first to the lymph node in the armpit, the surgeon will usually cut into it to check for any spread.
The surgery may be followed by a short course of radiotherapy or chemotherapy, depending on the type of tumour and how advanced it is. In most cases, the patient will be given a longer course of hormone therapy (eg tamoxifen) which reduces the risk of the cancer recurring.
The treatment for breast cancer has been improving for the last twenty years. In the early 1970's, only half of all women diagnosed with the disease survived for five years. Now, over three quarters survive for that long and most of them will live for very much longer.