What is Breast Cancer Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy treatment is a combination of drugs carried in the blood which attack cancer cells, stopping them from dividing and reproducing, and preventing the spread of cancer to other areas of the body.

Chemotherapy can attach to healthy cells and cause side effects, however the side effects are temporary and healthy cells are able to repair the damage caused. Cancer cells cannot repair the damage and hence the chemotherapy destroys them.

Who is Breast Cancer Chemotherapy suitable for?

Chemotherapy can be used to treat invasive breast cancers, from early stages, through to cancer that may have come back or has travelled to other parts of the body (metastatic disease).

Key candidates for breast cancer chemotherapy are:

  • Women with cancer found in the lymph nodes.
  • Premenopausal women with invasive breast cancer.
  • Women with early-stage breast cancer that is both hormone-receptor-negative and HER2-positive.
  • Chemotherapy is NOT suitable in situ cancers such as DCIS because there is only a very small risk of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body.

How does Breast Cancer Chemotherapy work?

Chemotherapy works by travelling through the blood and destroying or damaging cancer cells found anywhere in the body.

How is Breast Cancer Chemotherapy given?

Chemotherapy is given either intravenously or as tablets.

Usually chemotherapy is applied during a series of sessions, and each session is followed by a period of rest.

Every session of chemotherapy destroys more and more of the cancer cells, and  the following rest period gives the normal cells and surrounding tissues time to recover.

Neo-adjuvant chemotherapy is when chemotherapy is used to shrink a cancer before another treatment such as surgery. Typically this is done when a cancer is either too big, or strongly  attached to surrounding healthy tissue making it difficult to remove.

Adjuvant chemotherapy is when chemotherapy is given after surgery or radiotherapy treatment to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

Chemotherapy can also be given at the same time as radiotherapy and is known as chemo radiotherapy or chemo-radiation.

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