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Chemotherapy for breast cancer


Chemotherapy for breast cancer

Breast cancer chemotherapy is typically used to treat patients with locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer. Your medical oncologist may recommend chemotherapy before you undergo breast cancer surgery (neo-adjuvant) or after surgery (adjuvant):

  • Neo-adjuvant (or primary systemic) breast cancer chemotherapy: May be used before surgery to reduce the size of large breast tumors and to destroy cancer cells. This type of chemotherapy often makes breast-conserving surgery possible. It also helps our cancer doctors determine the effectiveness of a particular regimen on the breast tumor.
  • Adjuvant breast cancer chemotherapy: May be used after surgery or radiation therapy to eliminate any remaining cancer cells that may not have been removed during breast cancer surgery and/or radiation therapy. It may also prevent the disease from spreading to other parts of the body.

Some examples of chemotherapy drugs used to treat breast cancer include: anastrozole (Arimidex®), bevacizumab (Avastin®), capecitabine (Xeloda®), cisplatin (Platinol®), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan®), doxorubicin (Adriamycin®), doxorubicin liposomal injection (Doxil®), exemestane (Aromasin®), fluorouracil (5-FU), gemcitabine (Gemzar®), ixabepilone (Ixempra®), letrozole (Femara®), paclitaxel (Taxol®) and trastuzumab (Herceptin®).

Meeting your individual needs

We will work closely with you to meet your individual needs before, during and after your breast cancer chemotherapy treatments:

  • Before receiving chemotherapy, your care team may use tools, such as tumor molecular profiling, to test solid tumors outside of the body for sensitivity to specific chemotherapeutic drugs, thereby avoiding unnecessary toxicity to you. In addition, prior to receiving chemotherapy, your infusion nurses may provide pre-medications (prescribed by your medical oncologist) to help reduce nausea.
  • During chemotherapy, your care team will work closely with you to monitor your breast cancer chemotherapy regime to make sure it continues to work for you. For example, you may receive physical exams, blood tests, CT scans, MRI scans and X-rays.
  • After chemotherapy, your care team will use multiple measures to reduce the potential side effects of chemotherapy. To combat nausea, your medical oncologist may prescribe medicines like antiemetics and your naturopathic clinician may provide natural agents. An image enhancement specialist can provide tips to help you deal with hair loss, should it occur.

Addressing side effects of breast cancer chemotherapy

Your care team recognizes the potential side effects of breast cancer chemotherapy drugs, such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, sore mouth, diarrhea, constipation and decreased blood counts. These side effects can impact your ability to tolerate treatments, maintain a healthy diet, stay active and enjoy a good quality of life.

Your care team will be as proactive as possible in anticipating and combating side effects so you can better tolerate your breast cancer chemotherapy treatments. For example, prior to receiving chemotherapy, your infusion nurses may provide pre-medications (prescribed by your medical oncologist) to help reduce nausea.

In addition, your care team will provide a combination of integrative oncology services, based on your individual needs, to help you manage side effects of chemo. Therapies like nutrition therapy, naturopathic medicine and mind-body medicine, can all help to reduce chemotherapy-related symptoms so you can continue to participate in the activities you enjoy most.

Tumor molecular profiling for breast cancer

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs designed to slow or stop the growth of rapidly dividing cancer cells in the body. It may be used:

  • As a primary treatment to destroy cancer cells
  • Before another treatment to shrink a tumor
  • After another treatment to destroy any remaining cancer cells
  • To relieve symptoms of advanced cancer

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), our medical oncologists are experienced in delivering targeted, individualized chemotherapy options while also proactively managing side effects.

Chemotherapy delivery methods

Some chemotherapy delivery methods include:

  • Orally (by mouth as a pill or liquid)
  • Intravenously (by infusion into a vein)  
  • Topically (as a cream on the skin)
  • Injection
  • Direct placement (via a lumbar puncture or device placed under the scalp)

When chemotherapy drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach cells throughout the body, it is called systemic chemotherapy. When chemotherapy drugs are directed to a specific area of the body, it is called regional chemotherapy.

Experienced care team

For most of our patients, a medical oncologist serves as their primary doctor. Our medical oncologists specialize in diagnosing cancer and delivering chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy and/or hormone therapy. They will work closely with you and the rest of your care team to discuss chemotherapy options based on your individual needs.

Individualized treatment approach

When you arrive at the hospital, your medical oncologist will review your medical history and perform a full diagnostic evaluation, then present you with a treatment plan based on your specific diagnosis.

Chemotherapy is an important part of treatment for many of our patients. Our physicians use leading treatment protocols and practice evidence-based medicine. In some cases, we may use innovative delivery methods to treat certain types of cancer.

We strive to find the right chemotherapy drug, or combination of drugs, for each person. We may use tests, such as tumor molecular profiling, to identify an appropriate drug combination for your disease and help you avoid unnecessary toxicity.

If chemotherapy is part of your treatment plan, your medical oncologist will coordinate your dosage and schedule. You may receive chemotherapy alone, or in combination with other treatment modalities like targeted therapies, surgery and/or radiation therapy.

Throughout your treatment, your medical oncologist will monitor the effectiveness of your chemotherapy regimen and modify your treatment plan accordingly.

Managing chemotherapy side effects

While chemotherapy targets cancer cells, it can also damage healthy cells and cause unpleasant side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue and mouth sores. Your dedicated care team will provide a variety of integrative oncology services to help you prevent or manage side effects throughout your chemotherapy treatment.