Chemotherapy for breast cancer uses drugs to target and destroy breast cancer cells. These drugs are usually given directly into a vein through a needle or as a pill.
Chemotherapy for breast cancer is used in addition to other treatments, such as surgery, radiation or hormone therapy. Receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer may increase the chance of a cure, decrease the risk of the cancer returning, alleviate symptoms from the cancer or help people with cancer live longer with a better quality of life.
If the cancer has recurred or spread, chemotherapy may control the breast cancer to help you live longer. Or it can help ease symptoms the cancer is causing.
After you have surgery to remove a tumour from a breast, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy to destroy any undetected cancer cells and to reduce your risk of the cancer recurring. This is known as adjuvant chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy is sometimes given before surgery (neoadjuvant therapy) to shrink larger tumours. This may:
- Allow the surgeon the best chance of removing the tumour completely
- Enable breast conservation surgery rather than a mastectomy
- Decrease the extent of disease in lymph nodes, thus allowing for less invasive lymph node surgery
- Decrease the chance the cancer will return
- Enable evaluation of the tumour response to therapy, which helps clarify prognosis and the best chemotherapy drug choice
Side effects of chemotherapy are usually temporary and most can be controlled. Chemotherapy affects people in different ways, and two people having the same drugs may feel completely different to each other during the course of their treatment. Before starting chemotherapy, you should be given a 24-hour contact number or told who to contact if you feel unwell at any time during your treatment, including at night or at the weekends. Between each cycle of chemotherapy, you’ll have an assessment to see how you’re feeling and whether you’ve had any side effects.
If you are receiving chemotherapy and are experiencing concerns with side effects, please contact the Acute Oncology Service Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm on: 01271 311579.
For side effect management at weekends or from 6pm on a weekday, please telephone the Out Of Hours service on: 01271 322577 and ask for “Bleep 500”.