Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy breast cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body to the cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be used:
Chemotherapy may also be used in conjunction with other therapies like radiation treatment, biologic therapy, targeted therapy, or hormone blocking therapy.
There are a variety of chemotherapy drugs. The choice and combination of drugs will be based on your particular cancer and reaction to drugs. Chemotherapy drugs for breast cancer may include:
Chemotherapy is usually given by IV, but some forms can be given by mouth as well. IV chemotherapy is delivered in cycles over a set period of time. A medical oncologist will determine how many cycles of chemotherapy are needed and what combination of drugs will work best.
Though the drugs are targeted to cancer cells, they can affect healthy cells as well. The death of cancer cells and impact on healthy cells can cause a range of side effects. A medical oncologist will work to find the best drug combination and dosage to have the most impact on the cancer cells and minimal side effects on healthy tissue. Side effects or complications from chemotherapy may include:
Long term effects may include heart muscle damage (with doxorubincin) and rarely, leukemia.
A variety of treatments are available to help manage side effects including medication, lifestyle changes, and alternative treatments. In some cases, the chemotherapy regimen may be adjusted to reduce severe side effects. The earlier the side effects are addressed, the more likely they will be controlled with a minimum of discomfort.
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Last reviewed June 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP Last Updated: 10/30/2015