Chemotherapy treatment uses medicine to weaken and destroy cancer cells in the body, including cells at the original cancer site and any cancer cells that may have spread to another part of the body. Chemotherapy, often shortened to just "chemo," is a systemic therapy, which means it affects the whole body by going through the bloodstream.
There are quite a few chemotherapy medicines. In many cases, a combination of two or more medicines will be used as chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.
Chemotherapy is used to treat:
- early-stage invasive breast cancer to get rid of any cancer cells that may be left behind after surgery and to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back
- advanced-stage breast cancer to destroy or damage the cancer cells as much as possible
In some cases, chemotherapy is given before surgery to shrink the cancer.
In this section, you'll learn more about how chemotherapy works, chemotherapy medicines, and what to expect with chemotherapy. You also can learn about chemotherapy side effects and ways to manage them.
- How Chemotherapy Works
- Who Gets Chemotherapy?
- Chemotherapy Medicines
- Choosing a Chemotherapy Combination
- Talking to Your Doctor About Chemotherapy
- Chemotherapy: What to Expect
- Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects
- Dealing with Chemotherapy Fears
- Staying on Track With Chemotherapy
Read and download Community Member tips for chemotherapy treatment (PDF).
The medical experts for Chemotherapy are:
- Francene M. Fleegler, M.D., medical oncologist/hematologist, University of Pennsylvania Health System, Philadelphia, PA
- Jennifer Griggs, M.D., MPH, medical oncologist and breast cancer specialist, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
- Blanche Reiner, RN, OCN, University of Pennsylvania Health System, Philadelphia, PA
- Barbara Reville, M.S., CRNP, oncology nurse practitioner, University of Pennsylvania Health System, Philadelphia, PA
- Sandra F. Schnall, M.D., medical oncologist/hematologist, Thomas Jefferson University Health System, Philadelphia, PA
- Marisa Weiss, M.D., chief medical officer of Breastcancer.org; breast radiation oncologist, Lankenau Medical Center, part of Main Line Health, Philadelphia area, PA
- Lisa Weissmann, M.D., medical oncologist, Mount Auburn Hospital, Cambridge, MA
These experts are members of the Breastcancer.org Professional Advisory Board, which includes more than 70 medical experts in breast cancer-related fields.
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