Increased Risk For Leukemia
Although rare, receiving chemotherapy can put you at higher risk for developing leukemia down the line. If this is the case, it usually appears within 10 years of receiving chemotherapy.
For most people, the benefits of receiving chemotherapy to help treat breast cancer outweigh the slight risk for developing leukemia.
Side Effects Of Breast Cancer Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy usually works by attacking rapidly dividing cells. This means that chemotherapy can harm not only cancer cells but also healthy cells that are dividing rapidly, like the ones that cause your hair to grow.
Whether you have side effects from breast cancer chemotherapy will depend on the details of your treatment plan. The care teams at MSK are committed to helping you feel your best during and after treatment. During treatment, well watch carefully for your reaction to the drugs and adjust the drugs or dose as necessary. Well also continue to monitor you for possible long-term effects after your treatment ends.
We offer a variety of other specialized services to support you during your treatment. Many MSK patients find that our Integrative Medicine Service can be a valuable part of their treatment plan. Programs include massage, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, meditation, visualization, music therapy, and nutritional counseling.
One side effect of chemotherapy can be hair loss. MSK offers scalp cooling to help minimize hair loss. Learn more about scalp cooling, or ask your care team for more information.
Breast Cancer: An Overview
In the United States, after skin cancer, breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer diagnosed in women. Breast cancer can occur in both men and women. Over recent years, there have been rapid advancements in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Today, earlier detection, personalized treatments, and a better understanding of the disease make defeating breast cancer a realistic dream. But there is a lot to be done, which is why we will discuss breast cancer in detail in this article, including breast cancer signs, risk factors, and breast cancer chemotherapy.
In breast cancer, breast cells grow out of control. It sounds like a very simple statement, but there are different kinds of breast cells, which is why breast cancers are categorized into different types. The three main parts of the breast include lobules, ducts, and connective tissues. Lobules are concerned with milk production, ducts are the tubes carrying milk to the nipples, while it is the connective tissues that hold everything in its place. Most breast cancers that have been reported so far begin either in lobules or ducts. Breast cancer can spread outside the breast, and when it does so, the cancer is said to have metastasized.
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How Is Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Administered
Chemotherapy is commonly prescribed along with other treatment methods such as hormonal and targeted therapies. It can also be used to shrink a tumor before surgery for easier and safer removal, referred to as neoadjuvant chemotherapy.If you receive chemotherapy, your doctor will administer it in short courses with several weeks in between to allow your normal cells to recover. This treatment period can be a challenging time emotionally and physically. It is important for you to develop a support team of family or friends that can help comfort and encourage you in this time.
What To Expect After Chemo
Once youâre home, you need to take care of yourself and take steps to manage chemo side effects. These include:
- Take medications the doctor prescribed for side effects.
- Stay away from anyone with a cold or infection — chemo makes it harder for your body to fight germs.
- Drink lots of fluids for the first 8 hours to move the medicine through your body.
- Manage bodily fluids and waste that may have traces of chemo. Usually, this means flushing the toilet twice.
Youâll see your doctor every 4 to 6 months for the next 5 years after treatment ends.
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How Is Chemotherapy Given
Many different drugs and combinations of drugs can be used to treat breast cancer. Chemotherapy can be taken as tablets or capsules, or injected through an intravenous drip. Chemotherapy for breast cancer is usually given through a drip. The way that treatment is given depends on the specific drugs that are being used.
Chemotherapy is co-ordinated by a medical oncologist and is given by specialist cancer nurses in the chemotherapy unit at a hospital. Chemotherapy is usually given over a few hours as a day-only treatment, so you can go home on the same day. Some women find it helpful to have someone available to drive them home after treatment in case they feel unwell. Chemotherapy is not normally painful although some people find the drip uncomfortable.
Chemotherapy for breast cancer is usually given in treatment cycles. Typically, you would go to the hospital for the day every three weeks and this would be repeated until you have had four or six treatments. Sometimes chemotherapy is given more often than every three weeks, for example it can be given as a weekly cycle for eight to twelve cycles. Your doctor will explain the schedule that has been recommended for you.
The common chemotherapy drugs for breast cancer include:
How Do We Know That Less Or No Chemotherapy Really Is Enough For Her2
Early in the 2000s, trastuzumab , a monoclonal antibody, was introduced to treat women with relatively advanced cases of HER2-positive breast cancer, and it was successful, Dr. Winer explains.
Suddenly, women with relatively advanced forms of breast cancerwith lymph node involvementwere doing exceptionally well, he says. So, then we asked ourselves: If you have a very small HER2-positive breast cancer and no lymph node involvement, do you still need such complex chemotherapy treatments? In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine almost a decade ago, we demonstrated that one could give a limited course of chemotherapy along with trastuzumab and achieve outstanding results.
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Combination Drug Therapy For Early
Combination drug therapy means that you receive more than one type of drug at a time.
Combining drug therapies allows your care team to increase the chances that your treatment will be effective against the breast cancer. If a tumor becomes resistant to one drug, your treatment may still be effective because the tumor responds to the second or third drug in the combination you receive.
Combination therapy can be given before or after breast surgery. Most women receive a combination of two or three drugs at the same time. Some of these drugs are breast cancer targeted therapies. These drugs work by targeting specific molecules involved in breast cancer development.
Here are some of the drug combinations that MSKs medical oncologists commonly prescribe:
Dose-Dense AC-T Chemotherapy
- Doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide, followed by paclitaxel
- Used to treat early-stage breast cancer, particularly in younger women or women with aggressive disease
- Given intravenously before or after surgery
Dose-Dense AC-TH Chemotherapy and Targeted Therapy
- Doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide, followed by paclitaxel and trastuzumab
- Used to treat early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer
- Given intravenously before or after surgery
Dose-Dense AC-THP Chemotherapy and Targeted Therapy
- Doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide, followed by paclitaxel, trastuzumab, and pertuzumab
- Used to treat early-stage breast cancer
- Given intravenously before or after surgery
Considering Complementary And Alternative Methods
You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasnt mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.
Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctors medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be harmful.
Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known about the method, which can help you make an informed decision.
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Before You Start Chemotherapy
You need to have blood tests to make sure its safe to start treatment. You have these either a few days before or on the day you start treatment. You have blood tests before each round or cycle of treatment.
The pharmacists make chemotherapy for each person individually. They do this once your blood test results have come through. Its worked out based on your weight, height and general health.
Complementary And Alternative Medicine
Complementary and alternative medicine are medicines and health practices that are not standard cancer treatments. Complementary medicine is used in addition to standard treatments, and alternative medicine is used instead of standard treatments. Meditation, yoga, and supplements like vitamins and herbs are some examples.
Many kinds of complementary and alternative medicine have not been tested scientifically and may not be safe. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits before you start any kind of complementary or alternative medicine.
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Help Getting Through Cancer Treatment
People with cancer need support and information, no matter what stage of illness they may be in. Knowing all of your options and finding the resources you need will help you make informed decisions about your care.
Whether you are thinking about treatment, getting treatment, or not being treated at all, you can still get supportive care to help with pain or other symptoms. Communicating with your cancer care team is important so you understand your diagnosis, what treatment is recommended, and ways to maintain or improve your quality of life.
Different types of programs and support services may be helpful, and can be an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.
The American Cancer Society also has programs and services including rides to treatment, lodging, and more to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists.
Breast Cancer: Types Of Treatment
Have questions about breast cancer? Ask here.
ON THIS PAGE: You will learn about the different types of treatments doctors use for people with breast cancer. Use the menu to see other pages.
This section explains the types of treatments, also known as therapies, that are the standard of care for early-stage and locally advanced breast cancer. Standard of care means the best treatments known. When making treatment plan decisions, you are encouraged to discuss with your doctor whether clinical trials are an option. A clinical trial is a research study that tests a new approach to treatment. Doctors learn through clinical trials whether a new treatment is safe, effective, and possibly better than the standard treatment. Clinical trials can test a new drug and how often it should be given, a new combination of standard treatments, or new doses of standard drugs or other treatments. Some clinical trials also test giving less drug or radiation treatment or doing less extensive surgery than what is usually done as the standard of care. Clinical trials are an option for all stages of cancer. Your doctor can help you consider all your treatment options. Learn more about clinical trials in the About Clinical Trials and Latest Research sections of this guide.
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Where You Have Chemotherapy
You usually have treatment into your bloodstream at the cancer day clinic. You might sit in a chair for a few hours so its a good idea to take things in to do. For example, newspapers, books or electronic devices can all help to pass the time. You can usually bring a friend or family member with you.
You have some types of chemotherapy over several days. You might be able to have some drugs through a small portable pump that you take home.
For some types of chemotherapy you have to stay in a hospital ward. This could be overnight or for a couple of days.
Some hospitals may give certain chemotherapy treatments to you at home. Your doctor or nurse can tell you more about this.
Clare Disney : Hello, my name is Clare and this is a cancer day unit.
So when you arrive and youve reported into with the receptionist, one of the nurses will call you through when your treatment is ready, sit you down and go through all the treatment with you.
Morning, Iris. My name is Clare. I am the nurse who is going to be looking after you today. Were going to start by putting a cannula in the back of your hand and giving you some anti sickness medication. And then I am going to come back to you and talk through the chemotherapy with you and the possible side effects you may experience throughout your treatment. Is that okay?
Each chemotherapy is made up for each individual patient, depending on the type of cancer they have and where it is and depending their height, weight and blood results.
Is Chemotherapy The Only Treatment For Breast Cancer
No. Occasionally, chemotherapy is the only breast cancer treatment, but most often, healthcare providers use chemotherapy with other treatments, such as:
- Lumpectomy: Removing the tumor and a small amount of surrounding breast tissue.
- Mastectomy: Removing one or both breasts.
- Hormone therapy: Taking medicines that lower estrogen or block estrogens effects on cancer cells.
- Targeted therapy: Taking medicines that target the changes in cancer cells to destroy them or slow their growth.
- Radiation therapy: Using high-energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells.
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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.
What To Expect When Undergoing This Treatment
Chemotherapy is a type of medication that targets cancer cells, and it’s a standard treatment for some types of breast cancer. The goal of chemotherapy, or chemo, is to improve overall survival. In some cases, however, it may be prescribed to simply provide comfort care by preventing the tumor from getting too large and causing discomfort.
Chemotherapy has potential side effects, some of which are severe. Healthcare providers can provide tools and medications to help minimize the side effects.
Whether your oncologist recommends chemotherapy for you depends on several factors, such as tumor type and location. Discuss your specific concerns with your healthcare provider.
This article will give a broad overview of chemotherapy for breast cancer: how it works, how and when it’s given, types of drugs used in treatment, common infusion experiences, and potential side effects after receiving treatment.
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What To Expect During Treatment
You usually get chemo in an outpatient center at a hospital or clinic. If you have early stage breast cancer, youâll probably get treatments for 3 to 6 months. It may last longer for advanced breast cancer. Youâll have treatment in cycles, which could be just once a week or as often as three times a week. If youâre getting radiation and chemo together, youâll get the radiation after the chemo treatment. You may want to have someone drive you home the first few times until you know how it affects you.
On the day of treatment:
- Technicians will take some of your blood for tests.
- Your doctor will go over the blood test results and talk about your overall health.
- The doctor orders the treatment.
- Youâll meet with the person on your health care team whoâs going to give you the chemo.
- Theyâll check your temperature, pulse, and blood pressure.
- Theyâll put the IV into your vein.
- Theyâll give you medications to prevent nausea, anxiety, and inflammation along with the chemotherapy.
- When your treatment is done, theyâll remove your IV and check your vital signs again.
- Youâll get prescriptions for dugs you can take at home to help with side effects.
- Theyâll tell you what is OK to eat and drink once youâre home.
How Chemotherapy Is Used
Doctors use chemotherapy in several ways to treat to treat all stages of breast cancer. Whether or not a doctor recommends chemotherapy for you depends on the breast cancer’s characteristics, your health history, and your personal preferences.
Doctors call chemotherapy given after surgery adjuvant chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is given after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that may have been left behind or may have travelled to other places in the body. These single cells or groups of two or three cells are very small and don’t appear on imaging tests. Chemotherapy after surgery reduces the risk of the cancer coming back, called recurrence by doctors.
Doctors dont recommend chemotherapy after surgery for everyone diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, except in the following situations:
If there are cancer cells in the lymph nodes near the affected breast, doctors may recommend chemotherapy.
If the cancer has characteristics that make it more aggressive, such as being hormone receptor-negative or HER2-positive, doctors usually recommend chemotherapy.
If youre a pre-menopausal woman, your doctor is more likely to recommend chemotherapy because breast cancer in pre-menopausal women tends to be more aggressive.
Doctors call chemotherapy given before surgery neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is given before surgery to shrink large cancers, which may:
breast cancers that have spread to the lymph nodes
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