Chemotherapy Treatment for Breast Cancer

Breast cancer in women

Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

Should I start chemotherapy before surgery?

The classical concept of breast-cancer treatment has been a sequence of tumor-removing surgery followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. The goal of surgery and radiation therapy is to destroy or remove the primary cancer. Follow-up chemotherapy is designed to eliminate any cancer cells, as yet undetectable, at remote sites.

Quick GuideBreast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment


In cancer treatment, chemotherapy refers to the use of drugs to kill or slow the growth of rapidly multiplying cells. Each of these rugs is forf mtrapy.

Chemotherapy includes many different drugs, given alone or incombination. There are many drugs used to treat breast cancer. Ask your doctor for specific information and side effects you can expect from your chemotherapy medications.

How Is Chemotherapy Given?

Chemotherapy drugs are given intravenously (directly into a vein) or orally (by mouth). Once the drugs enter the bloodstream, they travel to almost all parts of the body in order to reach cancer cells that may have spread beyond the breast -- therefore chemotherapy is considered a whole-body, or "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. For example, a drug may be given alone or in combination with other drugs on the first day of a 21-day treatment cycle. Such cycles may then be repeated at 3-week intervals for a total of 4 cycles of chemotherapy treatment given over 3 months.

When Is Chemotherapy Given?

When breast cancer is found only limited to the breast or lymph nodes, chemotherapy may be still be given after a lumpectomy or mastectomy. If the analysis of the findings from such a surgery suggests that there is a risk that cancer cells may have escaped from the breast and may be as yet undetectable elsewhere in the body, then chemotherapy may be recommended. This is known as adjuvant treatment and may help reduce the chance of breast cancer 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.

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