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Breast Cancer Treatment and Recovery Times Based on Diagnosis

Compare Different Diagnoses And Treatments With Recovery Times

By

Updated May 19, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

After your breast biopsy, you were given a diagnosis of breast cancer. Your life was busy, your calendar was already booked, and cancer was not included on your social calendar. How can you incorporate time for breast cancer treatments (and allow for recovery, too) in your already overflowing schedule?

First, take time to learn all you can about your comprehensive diagnosis. Ask about your options for surgery, and discuss possible treatment plans. Get a second opinion on your diagnosis and prospective treatments. Keep the goals of your treatment firmly in view. Once you have decided on surgery and treatments to reduce your risk of recurrence, get out your calendar and set aside the time you will need for treatment and recovery.

How Long Will Breast Cancer Treatment Take?

Breast cancer treatments can take quite a while, and you may wonder how soon you will get your life back. You may need to let family, friends, or your boss know how much time you will be in treatment. Below is a table with some estimates for how long treatments could take depending on your diagnosis. Times do not include breaks between types of treatments, consultations, second opinions, additional testing and imaging studies. If you are going to have hormonal therapy (endocrine therapy) after primary treatment ends, you may be taking medication to prevent recurrence for a long as five years.

An average case of early-stage breast cancer could take a year for diagnosis and treatment with short-term recovery. All the cases in this table assume early-stage breast cancer, with no metastasis.

Metastatic breast cancer will be treated and monitored differently -- treatments are given to slow the spread of metastatic breast cancer, reduce tumor size, reduce pain, and extend survival. Each case of metastatic breast cancer will require a treatment plan for the duration of the patient's life, so estimating times of treatment and recovery is done on a case-by-case basis.

About The Treatment and Recovery Table

The table below is a rough framework for some common scenarios. These cases presume a diagnosis of early-stage breast cancer which is removed by surgery and then given adjuvant treatments to prevent a recurrence. There are many exceptions to the cases presented here, for example: a diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer with a small tumor, clear lymph nodes and surgical margins will be treated with 3 - 6 months of chemotherapy, while a case of low-grade ductal carcinoma in situ with a small tumor, clear lymph nodes and surgical margins will be treated with radiation alone. In addition, the table does not include the possibility of up to 5 years of hormonal therapy for hormone-sensitive breast cancers. Discuss your diagnosis with your oncologist to get the most accurate picture of your overall time in treatment and recovery.

Breast Cancer Treatment and Recovery Times Based on Diagnosis

Diagnosis Surgery Additional
Surgery
Primary
Treatment
Secondary
Treatment
Time in Treatment
and Recovery
*
T1/N0/M0 Lumpectomy
(7 Days)
Radiation:
Brachytherapy
(7 Days)
14 - 21 Days
(2 - 3 Weeks)
T1/N0/M0 Lumpectomy
(7 Days)
Re-excision
(3-7 Days)
Radiation:
APBI
(3 Weeks)
6 Weeks
T1/N1/M0 Lumpectomy
(7 Days)
Radiation:
APBI
(3 Weeks)
Chemotherapy
(6 Cycles/6 Months)
7 - 8 Months
T2/N0/M0 Lumpectomy
(7 Days)
Radiation:
Whole Breast
(6 Weeks)
Chemotherapy
(6 Cycles/6 Months)
8 - 9 Months
T3/N1/M0 Mastectomy
(14 Days)
Chemotherapy
(6 Cycles/6 Months)
7 - 8 Months
T3/N1/M0 Mastectomy
(21 Days)
Immediate
Reconstruction
Chemotherapy
(6 Cycles/6 Months)
7 - 8 Months
* Note: Times for treatments and recovery are estimates -- each case will vary. Times do not include breaks between types of treatments, consultations, second opinions, additional testing and imaging studies.
Sources:
Adjuvant and Neoadjuvant Therapy for Breast Cancer. National Cancer Institute. Reviewed: 06/16/2009.

Detailed Guide: Breast Cancer. Radiation Therapy. American Cancer Society. Last Revised: 03/02/2009.

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