Sunday, February 18, 2024

Chemo Pill For Breast Cancer

Getting Oral Or Topical Chemotherapy

Local breast cancer survivor says chemotherapy drug caused permanent hair loss

While many chemotherapy drugs are given by infusion or injection, there are also oral chemo drugs or and topical chemo drugs .

The information below describes traditional or standard chemotherapy that might be given by mouth or applied to the skin. There are also other drugs that are used to treat cancer in different ways, including targeted therapy, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy.

Who Needs Breast Cancer Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is offered to most patients based on several factors including:

  • Type of receptors and status
  • Number of lymph nodes involved and degree of involvement
  • The risk for cancer to spread elsewhere in the body

Your medical team will work to select the right blend of chemotherapy drugs to suppress each stage of the cancer cells growth.

Can Chemotherapy Be Given In Pill Form

Oral chemotherapy is a cancer-fighting drug given by mouth in tablet, capsule, or liquid form. It is prescribed by your doctor, nurse practitioner, or physicians assistant, and has the same benefits and risks as chemotherapy given by infusion. Today, many cancer patients receive oral chemotherapy as a treatment.

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Increased Risk Of Leukemia

Very rarely, certain chemo drugs, such as doxorubicin , can cause diseases of the bone marrow, such as myelodysplastic syndromes or even acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of white blood cells. If this happens, it is usually within 10 years after treatment. For most women, the benefits of chemo in helping prevent breast cancer from coming back or in extending life are far likely to exceed the risk of this rare but serious complication.

Plan Ahead For Side Effects

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Ask your doctor what side effects you can expect during and after chemotherapy. If you know what to expect, you can prepare. For example, if your chemotherapy treatment will cause infertility, you may wish to store sperm, fertilized eggs or eggs for future use. If your chemotherapy will cause hair loss, consider a wig or a head covering, or talk to your doctor about measures that may prevent hair loss.

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How Do You Get Chemotherapy For Breast Cancer

You get chemotherapy as a pill or in a vein daily, weekly, or every 2-4 weeks. You may get one drug or a combination of them. Your treatment plan is designed for your particular situation.

If your veins are hard to find, you may get a catheter in a large vein. These devices are inserted by a surgeon or radiologist and have an opening to the skin or a port under the skin, allowing chemotherapy medications to be given. They can also be used to give fluids or take blood samples. Once chemotherapy is finished, your catheter will be removed.

What To Ask A Doctor Before Starting Oral Chemotherapy

Here are some questions you may want to ask a doctor:

  • Whats each drug expected to do?
  • Exactly how should I take this medication?
  • Can the pills be broken or crushed? Do they need to be taken with a meal?
  • Are there any particular foods I should avoid while taking this medication?
  • What should I do if I miss a dose?
  • What happens if I throw up after taking it?
  • How should I handle and store the drug?
  • What side effects can I expect from this drug, and what should I do if I have them? What are the warning signs of serious problems?
  • How often should I check in with your practice? When will I need blood tests or scans?
  • How long will I need to take it?
  • How will we know its working?

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When Will I Start Chemotherapy And Targeted Therapy

In general, chemotherapy and HER2-targeted therapies are more likely to be given prior to surgery. Youll receive these treatments in cycles, with each period of treatment followed by a period of rest to let your body recover.

Chemotherapy begins on the first day of the cycle. Cycles can last anywhere from about two to four weeks, depending on the combination of drugs.

Chemotherapy generally lasts about three to six months. The total length of chemotherapy treatment may vary depending on the stage of breast cancer and a number of other factors.

Herceptin is usually given every three weeks for one year , initially in combination with chemotherapy and then on its own after chemotherapy is complete.

Menstrual Changes And Fertility Issues

Chemotherapy Options for Triple Negative Breast Cancer

For younger women, changes in menstrual periods are a common side effect of chemo. Premature menopause and infertility may occur and could be permanent. If this happens, there is an increased risk of heart disease, bone loss, and osteoporosis. There are medicines that can treat or help prevent bone loss.

Even if your periods stop while you are on chemo, you may still be able to get pregnant. Getting pregnant while on chemo could lead to birth defects and interfere with treatment. If you have not gone through menopause before treatment and are sexually active, its important to discuss using birth control with your doctor. It is not a good idea for women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer to take hormonal birth control , so its important to talk with both your oncologist and your gynecologist about what options would be best for you. When women have finished treatment , they can safely go on to have children, but it’s not safe to get pregnant while being treated.

If you think you might want to have children after being treated for breast cancer, talk with your doctor soon after being diagnosed and before you start treatment. For some women, adding medicines, like monthly injections with a luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone analog, along with chemo, can help them have a successful pregnancy after cancer treatment. To learn more, see Female Fertility and Cancer.

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How Long Does Chemotherapy Take For Breast Cancer

Typically, you receive chemotherapy in cycles. You may receive chemo every week or every two, three or even four weeks. Cycles are usually two to three treatments long. Each cycle includes a rest period to allow your body to recover. For example, you may have the same treatment every Monday for three weeks. Then you have an extra week to recover before repeating the cycle. Many people have multiple treatment cycles in a row. Treatment may last three to six months.

Key Points To Remember

  • Chemotherapy is sometimes used after surgery for early-stage breast cancer to help lower the chances that your breast cancer will come back.
  • Some types of cancer have a very small chance of coming back. Women who have these types of cancer may not need chemo. There are gene tests that may show whether having chemo will help you reduce your chances that the cancer will return.
  • Your age, type of cancer, tumour size, and hormone receptor status have an effect on how well chemo will work to keep your cancer from coming back.
  • Different medicines used for chemo have different side effects. Your doctor can give you other medicines to help you deal with side effects like nausea and vomiting. Some women are bothered a lot by the side effects, but some arent.


Breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow out of control in one or both breasts. These cells can invade nearby tissues and form a mass, called a malignant tumour. The cancer cells can spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

The first treatment for early-stage breast cancer usually includes surgery and sometimes radiation. Your doctor may also talk to you about added treatment, such as chemotherapy and hormone therapy, that may help keep cancer from coming back.

Some people think of added treatment as an insurance policy designed to destroy any cancer cells that may still be in the body.

The type of added treatment you have depends on the stage and classification of your breast cancer:

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How You Have Chemotherapy

You may have chemotherapy directly into your bloodstream through a drip . Some chemotherapy drugs are tablets or capsules that you swallow, such as capecitabine.

You might have treatment through a long plastic tube that goes into a large vein in your chest. The tube stays in place throughout the course of treatment. This can be a:

If you don’t have a central line, you might have treatment through a thin short tube . The cannula goes into a vein in your arm each time you have treatment

What To Know About Leftover Oral Chemotherapy Drugs

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You might be left with unused drugs when you finish treatment or if your treatment plan changes. These are powerful drugs, so you should never flush them down the toilet or sink. You also shouldnt put them in the trash.

Check with your pharmacist or doctors office. Many will take them off your hands or let you know how to dispose of them properly.

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Can Receiving Less Chemotherapy Result Ultimately In Better Outcomes

Chemotherapy can shrink cancer and slow its growth, which is why it has been used to treat breast cancer in conjunction with surgery for so many years. But the side effects can be difficult.

In the short term, these side effects can include such problems as nausea, fatigue, and hair loss, which can sometimes last far beyond treatment. We know that, after a course of chemotherapy, a number of women, up to several years out, don’t regain their full vitality, Dr. Winer says.

But even more concerning are the long-term effects, which can include rare, but difficult, complications such as heart problems, neuropathy, and leukemia, which can ultimatelyand indirectlyaffect outcomes.

These potentially debilitating side effects are why personalizing chemotherapy treatment has become so important. If a patient can do just as well with fewer medical treatments, it’s almost always a better thing, says Dr. Winer. Less chemotherapy can mean fewer side effects, less anxiety, improved quality of life, and possibly even a longer life, he adds.

Also, when side effects are truly debilitating, treatment delivery may be impaired, Dr. Lustberg says. If we can enhance how patients are feeling during treatment, they may actually tolerate treatment better, stay on it longer, not need dose reductions or modifications, and have better disease outcomes. It’s all interrelated.

Why Do We Need Chemo Before Surgery

Before surgery : Neoadjuvant chemo might be given to try to shrink the tumor so it can be removed with less extensive surgery. Because of this, neoadjuvant chemo is often used to treat cancers that are too big to be removed by surgery when first diagnosed . Also, by giving chemo before the tumor is removed, doctors can see how the cancer responds to it. If the first set of chemo drugs doesnt shrink the tumor, your doctor will know that other drugs are needed. It should also kill any cancer cells that have spread but cant be seen. Just like adjuvant chemo, neoadjuvant chemo can lower the risk of breast cancer coming back.

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Will Chemotherapy Completely Cure Breast Cancer

Just like adjuvant chemo, neoadjuvant chemo can lower the risk of breast cancer coming back. Some people with early-stage cancer who get neoadjuvant chemo might live longer if the cancer completely goes away with that treatment. This can be seen most often in women who have triple-negative breast cancer or HER2-positive breast cancer.

Chemotherapy As The Primary Treatment For Advanced Breast Cancer

Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

If breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body and surgery isn’t an option, chemotherapy can be used as the primary treatment. It may be used in combination with targeted therapy.

The main goal of chemotherapy for advanced breast cancer is generally to improve quality and length of life rather than to cure the disease.

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Tell Your Doctor About Any Drugs Or Supplements You’re Taking

Medications or supplements you’re taking, including any herbal supplements, vitamins or over-the-counter drugs, may affect the way the chemotherapy drugs work. Your doctor may suggest alternative medications or that you not take the medications or supplements for a period before or after a chemotherapy session.

What Happens After Chemotherapy For Breast Cancer

Immediately after chemotherapy, you may feel sleepy or nauseated. Typically, the side effects of chemotherapy go away after you complete all prescribed cycles.

After all of your cycles of chemotherapy are completed, your healthcare provider may order imaging tests, such as CT scans or MRIs, to show whether the cancer is gone or the tumor has shrunk.

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Chemotherapy For Breast Cancer

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs that may be given intravenously or by mouth. The drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach cancer cells in most parts of the body. Sometimes, if cancer spreads to the spinal fluid, which surrounds and cushions the brain and spinal cord, chemo may be given directly into in this area .

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How Long Does It Take To Get Chemo

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The American Cancer Society note that in most cases, a person receives chemo oral or otherwise in cycles that involve 23 weeks of treatment and then a few weeks of rest. A person must follow their treatment instructions precisely and alert their doctor if they miss a dose or take an extra dose.

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Disadvantages Of Oral Chemotherapy

One of the biggest disadvantages of oral chemotherapy is the fact that its not administered in a hospital or hospital-like setting, or by a healthcare professional. This means that users may run the risk of forgetting to take their medication or doing so incorrectly.

According to an older 2012 study , the longer a persons oral chemotherapy treatment lasts, the more likely a person is to eventually discontinue use of the drug without the guidance of their doctor. This can lead to treatment being less effective, worsening side effects, and high dosages if pills are taken closely together.

One other disadvantage of oral chemotherapy is that the pills can be extremely dangerous. According to the

Before starting chemotherapy, youll have an opportunity to consult with a doctor. This is a good time to ask questions and discuss your concerns.

What Is Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Triple negative breast cancer is a less common type of breast cancer. It develops in about 1 in 5 women with breast cancer . It is more common in women under 40. It also seems to be more common in black women.

We need further research to understand this more. But triple negative breast cancer can develop in women of any age and ethnicity.

Breast cancer cells may have receptors that hormones or a protein called HER2 can attach to. A specialist breast cancer doctor takes a sample of cancer cells during a biopsy orsurgery to test for these receptors. If these receptors are found, you are usually treated with hormonal or targeted therapies.

Triple negative breast cancer does not have receptors for hormones, or HER2. This means treatment with hormonal or targeted therapy will not work.

Chemotherapy, along with surgery and radiotherapy, is the most effective treatment for triple negative breast cancer.

Triple negative breast cancer is sometimes described as a faster growing type of breast cancer. This may make you feel worried about it coming back. But the risk of it coming back depends on the same factors as any other type of breast cancer.

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When Is Chemotherapy Used

When chemotherapy is used before surgery to shrink or control the cancer its called neoadjuvant chemotherapy. When used after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer returning its called adjuvant chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy is often used for breast cancers that arent sensitive to hormone therapy, are HER2+ or triple negative, or for inflammatory breast cancers. It is sometimes used for hormone sensitive breast cancers.

Make Arrangements For Help At Home And At Work

What to Expect from Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

Most people are able to continue working and doing their usual activities during chemotherapy. Your doctor can give you an idea of how much the chemotherapy will affect your usual activities, but it’s difficult to predict just how you’ll feel.

Prepare by asking for time off work or help at home for the first few days after treatment. If you’ll be in the hospital during chemotherapy treatment, arrange to take time off work and find someone to take care of your usual responsibilities at home.

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Feeling Unwell Or Tired

Many women do not feel as healthy after chemo as they did before. There is often a residual feeling of body pain or achiness and a mild loss of physical functioning. These changes may be very subtle and happen slowly over time.

Fatigue is another common problem for women who have received chemo. This may last a few months up to several years. It can often be helped, so its important to let your doctor or nurse know about it. Exercise, naps, and conserving energy may be recommended. If you have sleep problems, they can be treated. Sometimes fatigue can be a sign of depression, which may be helped by counseling and/or medicines.

Possible Side Effects Of Chemo For Breast Cancer

Chemo drugs can cause side effects, depending on the type and dose of drugs given, and the length of treatment. Some of the most common possible side effects include:

  • Hot flashes and/or vaginal dryness from menopause caused by chemo

Chemo can also affect the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow, which can lead to:

  • Increased chance of infections
  • Easy bruising or bleeding

These side effects usually go away after treatment is finished. There are often ways to lessen these side effects. For example, drugs can be given to help prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting.

Other side effects are also possible. Some of these are more common with certain chemo drugs. Ask your cancer care team about the possible side effects of the specific drugs you are getting.

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