Chemotherapy Treatment for Breast Cancer
In cancer treatment, chemotherapy refers to the use of drugs to kill or slow the growth of rapidly multiplying cells.
Chemotherapy usually includes a combination of drugs, since this is more effective than a single drug given alone. There are many drug combinations used to treat breast cancer. Ask your doctor for specific information and side effects you can expect from your chemotherapy medications.
Chemotherapy drugs are given intravenously (directly into a vein) or orally (by mouth). Once the drugs enter the bloodstream, they travel to all parts of the body in order to reach cancer cells that may have spread beyond the breast -- therefore chemotherapy is considered a "systemic" form of breast cancer treatment.
Chemotherapy is given in cycles of treatment followed by a recovery period. The entire chemotherapy treatment generally lasts three to six months, depending on the type of drugs given.
When breast cancer is limited to the breast or lymph nodes, chemotherapy may be given after a lumpectomy or mastectomy. This is known as adjuvant treatment and may help reduce the chance of breast cancer recurrence.
Chemotherapy is sometimes given before surgery (called neoadjuvant treatment) in order to shrink the tumor so it can be removed more easily or so that a lumpectomy can be performed instead of a mastectomy.
Chemotherapy may also be given as the main treatment for women whose cancer has spread to other parts of the body outside of the breast and lymph nodes. This spread is known as metastatic breast cancer and occurs in a small number of women at the time of diagnosis, or when the cancer recurs some time after initial treatment for localized (non-metastatic) breast cancer.