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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Breast cancer in women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113654/Breast-cancer-in-women. Updated May 31, 2017. Accessed June 30, 2017.
Chemotherapy for breast cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/treatment/chemotherapy-for-breast-cancer.html. Updated June 1, 2016. Accessed June 30, 2017.
Chemotherapy for early and locally advanced breast cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114271/Chemotherapy-for-early-and-locally-advanced-breast-cancer. Updated March 9, 2017. Accessed June 30, 2017.
Chemotherapy for metastatic breast cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900469/Chemotherapy-for-metastatic-breast-cancer. Updated February 6, 2015. Accessed June 30, 2017.
Treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/breast-treatment-pdq#section/_185. Updated May 5, 2017. Accessed June 30, 2017.
Last reviewed June 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.