Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

Tests and Procedures - Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer Treatment

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to treat cancer. Chemotherapy reaches all parts of the body, not just the cancer cells. The oncologist (a doctor with special training in cancer treatment) will recommend a treatment plan for each person. Specific treatment will be based on:

The oncologist will also determine how long and how often you will have chemotherapy treatments. Chemotherapy can be given intravenously (in the vein or IV) or by pill, and usually a combination of drugs is used. Chemotherapy treatments are often given in cycles; a treatment for a period of time, followed by a recovery period, then another treatment. Chemotherapy may be given in a variety of settings including your home, a hospital outpatient facility, a doctor's office or clinic, or in a hospital.

Chemotherapy can be given before surgery to shrink the tumor and sometimes make breast conserving surgery possible rather than a mastectomy. Many times it is given after surgery and may be given every three weeks or every two weeks in a "dose dense" fashion.

What are the different types of chemotherapy drugs used for breast cancer treatment and their potential side effects?

As each person's individual medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is his/her reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe, mild, or absent. Be sure to discuss with your cancer care team any or all possible side effects of treatment before the treatment begins. Most side effects go away once treatment is stopped. These are some of the drugs most commonly used to treat breast cancer:

All of these drugs can cause changes in your blood counts that can make you feel very tired and make it harder for you to fight infections. Again, talk to your health care team about what side effects you should watch for and which, if any, need to be reported to the doctor right away. In most cases, there are things that can be done to help control or even prevent chemotherapy side effects.

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