Breast Cancer Treatment

breast cancer treatment 

Debra Harris, R.N., (middle) is the OHSU breast cancer nurse navigator. She will guide you through every step of treatment so you can focus on getting better. Dr. Karen Oh (right) is an expert radiologist and the director of breast cancer imaging at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

At OHSU’s breast cancer clinic, our nurse navigator arranges every step of treatment so you can focus on getting better. Our expert doctors and nurses also understand that every breast cancer patient is different. We tailor treatments to your specific needs and wishes.

Our compassionate, state-of-the-art care includes:

Comprehensive care

Having a full team of expert providers is especially important for a disease as complex as breast cancer. Many patients need care from several doctors, such as surgery from a surgical oncologist, radiation from a radiation oncologist and chemotherapy from a medical oncologist. Our approach provides seamless care with an emphasis on your preferences.

Nursing support

Three nurses guide patients through OHSU breast health services. You’ll find a nurse navigator at the OHSU Breast Center, which provides expert screening and other services. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, you’ll transition to the nurse navigator at the breast cancer clinic. After treatment, a breast health nurse practitioner coordinates survivorship care.

The cancer clinic nurse navigator will answer your questions, explain your diagnosis and arrange your appointments. She will explain your pathology and surgery reports, your receptor status, your treatment options and other details. She will also make sure you learn about any clinical trial that could help you.

Doctors work as a team

Our doctors work closely together. On clinic days, they confer face to face at a morning conference and throughout the day. Our surgical oncologists and plastic surgeons also work as partners, often combining cancer and reconstruction procedures into one surgery.

Genomic analysis

We offer access to genomic testing services for appropriate patients to help guide treatment decisions. For certain early-stage tumors, for example, genetic activity can indicate whether a patient needs chemotherapy or can safely avoid it. 

Complementary medicine

We'll care for you as a whole person, not just a cancer patient. Our services include acupuncture, naturopathic care, traditional Chinese medicine and dietitians with cancer expertise.


All your care can be arranged at our South Waterfront and Marquam Hill campuses, which are connected by the Portland Aerial Tram. Patients and close family members receive free tram passes. For your convenience, we also offer some services at community clinics. Our nurse navigator will coordinate all your appointments.

First steps

We strive to make your care as stress-free as possible. We welcome patients at any phase of treatment, and we’re happy to provide a second opinion. Here are the first steps after you call or are referred to our clinic.

Intake call

Our nurse navigator talks with you on the phone to go over your condition and next steps. If you've just been diagnosed, she explains your pathology report and determines whether you need more imaging or genetic testing. She sets up your appointments at our clinic.

Breast cancer conference

Within two days of your intake call, typically, doctors examine your scans and pathology results together at their regular weekly conference. They discuss options and patient wishes, then agree on treatment recommendations. This ensures that your case is examined from every angle and that you don't get conflicting information.

This gathering includes about two dozen health care professionals from medical oncology, surgical oncology, radiation oncology, radiology, pathology, research/clinical trials and other areas.

First appointments

On the day of the breast cancer conference, typically, you'll meet with the specialists you may need. Patients usually have one exam room, and doctors come to them. You'll end the day with a clear path forward.

Breast reconstruction

If you need surgery and are interested in reconstruction, a plastic surgeon will join your first appointments to discuss options. This ensures that reconstruction is part of surgical planning. It also enables you to look ahead to restorative treatment.

Breast Cancer Treatment Timelines

You may be eager for answers and treatment. Here are our most common timelines:

  • Lump felt or abnormal mammogram: A biopsy can be scheduled that day or the next.
  • Biopsy results: These are typically available in three business days.
  • Intake call: You are likely to have your intake call with the nurse navigator the Tuesday after your biopsy results come in.
  • First appointments: These typically happen on a Thursday, two days after your intake call.


Not every patient has every treatment. Your care team will also discuss the order of treatments recommended for your care. Some patients receive therapy to shrink a tumor before surgery, for example, while others have surgery first.

Cancer surgery

Our surgical services include "oncoplastic" lumpectomy, which combines cancer removal and cosmetic techniques for a pleasing result. When possible, we also offer nipple- and skin-sparing mastectomies for natural-looking reconstructions, in addition to more traditional mastectomies.

Chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapies

We provide the latest therapies in medical oncology, including chemotherapy when needed and hormone therapies that harness cancer receptors to shrink tumors. We also offer access to genomic testing -- analysis to reveal the cancer's traits at the molecular level -- to guide treatment decisions for appropriate patients. As part of the Knight Cancer Institute, we are also on the leading edge of providing targeted therapies. These treatments attack cancer cells while mostly sparing healthy cells.

Radiation therapy

We offer the latest technology for internal and external radiation therapy. We are the only hospital in the Northwest with Intrabeam radiation therapy for breast cancer, which can treat patients who meet detailed criteria with just one dose during surgery. We also follow protocols to limit radiation to the heart, lessening the risk of side effects.

Plastic surgery/reconstruction

We offer every option, including sophisticated reconstruction techniques using a patient's own tissue for strikingly natural-looking results. Reconstruction can often be combined with breast reduction or augmentation.

Clinical trials

As Oregon's only academic health center, OHSU offers access to breast cancer clinical trials. Trials can benefit participating patients as well as expand scientific understanding to improve future treatments.

Survivorship care

After active treatment, a breast health nurse practitioner creates a survivorship care plan to guide patients through follow-up appointments. The nurse practitioner also helps patients with side effects, rehabilitation, wellness and support services.