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Chemotherapy drugs are given to stop the growth of cancer cells in your breast, as well as kill any cancer cells that have could have spread beyond the breast. These drugs are usually delivered after surgery, but also can be used to shrink tumors before surgery to make them operable or allow for breast-conserving surgery.
We offer the latest FDA-approved drugs and combinations, and continue to refine and develop the best treatment protocols. When appropriate, patients also have access to clinical research trials that explore new therapies.
Several types of chemotherapy exist, and our medical oncologists work with you to determine the best treatment. Generally, you receive chemotherapy intravenously (through your veins), but sometimes you can also take a pill.
There are three potential applications of chemotherapy during treatment:
- Neoadjuvant: Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is given before surgery. Your team of doctors may recommend a neoadjuvant approach for a number of possible reasons.
- Provide more options: Your breast surgeon may recommend shrinking the tumor before surgery to make you a candidate for breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy, i.e., partial mastectomy).
- Make the tumor operable: In some instances, the tumor involves the skin or the underlying chest muscles. The chemotherapy may shrink the tumor or result in an improvement in the skin changes, making you a candidate for surgery.
- See if the tumor will respond: We track how the tumor reacts to different chemotherapy agents or other drugs, allowing a more individualized or tailored approach to treatment. This may also involve clinical trials of new drugs or approaches to treatment.
- Adjuvant: Adjuvant refers to chemotherapy that is given after surgery. It is designed to prevent cancer from returning (recurring), particularly in other parts of your body.
- Metastatic Therapy: When breast cancer cells have spread outside the breast, chemotherapy may be given to help slow the progression of the cancer or to improve some of the symptoms associated with the cancer.
Side Effects of Chemotherapy
While chemotherapy kills cancer cells, it can also affect healthy cells in your body and cause a variety of side effects. Fortunately, with new medications, these complications are now much better controlled. Your medical oncologist will discuss the side effects associated with your specific type of chemotherapy.
Depending on the kind of drug you are taking, side effects may include:
- Vomiting, nausea or other gastrointestinal problems, although this is typically very well controlled with current medications
- Hair loss
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Lowering of white blood cell count, which can increase the risk for infection
- Tingling or numbness in your fingers and toes