How Chemotherapy Works Against Cancer
Chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing the growth of cancer cells, which grow and divide quickly. Chemotherapy is used for two reasons:
- Treat cancer: Chemotherapy can be used to cure cancer, lessen the chance it will return, or stop or slow its growth.
- Ease cancer symptoms: Chemotherapy can be used to shrink tumors that are causing pain and other problems.
Physical Emotional And Social Effects Of Cancer
In general, cancer and its treatment cause physical symptoms and side effects, as well as emotional, social, and financial effects. Managing all of these effects is called palliative care or supportive care. It is an important part of your care that is included along with treatments intended to slow, stop, or eliminate the cancer.
Supportive care focuses on improving how you feel during treatment by managing symptoms and supporting patients and their families with other, non-medical needs. Any person, regardless of age or type and stage of cancer, may receive this type of care. And it often works best when it is started right after a cancer diagnosis. People who receive supportive care along with treatment for the cancer often have less severe symptoms, better quality of life, and report that they are more satisfied with treatment.
Supportive care treatments vary widely and often include medication, nutritional changes, relaxation techniques, emotional and spiritual support, and other therapies.
Music therapy, meditation, stress management, and yoga for reducing anxiety and stress.
Meditation, relaxation, yoga, massage, and music therapy for depression and to improve other mood problems.
Meditation and yoga to improve general quality of life.
Acupressure and acupuncture to help with nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy.
How You Have Chemotherapy
You usually have treatment into your bloodstream .
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 Is The Strongest Chemo Drug For Breast Cancer
Doxorubicin is considered one of the strongest chemotherapy drugs for breast cancer ever invented. It can kill cancer cells at every point in their life cycle, and its used to treat a wide variety of cancers, not just breast cancer. Doxorubicin is also known as The Red Devil because it is a clear bright red color.
What To Expect During Chemotherapy Treatment
Some chemotherapy medicines for breast cancer can be taken orally as pills. But most chemotherapy medicines are given as an infusion into a vein through an IV, a port, or a catheter over a period of time.
Chemotherapy is given in cycles a period of treatment followed by a period of recovery. One cycle may include chemotherapy on the first day and then three weeks of recovery with no treatment.
A chemotherapy treatment regimen is made up of several cycles. The number of cycles in a regimen and the total time it takes to complete one regimen depends on the chemotherapy medicines you receive. But most regimens take three to six months to complete.
In some cases, if the cancer is considered aggressive, doctors may recommend a dose-dense chemotherapy regimen. Dose-dense chemotherapy means there is less time between cycles say every two weeks instead of every three weeks.
What Is The Main Effect Of Chemotherapy
In cancer treatment, chemotherapy refers to the use of drugs whose main effect is either to kill or to slow the growth of rapidly multiplying cancer cells. Chemotherapy often includes using a combination of drugs, since this approach is more effective than using a single drug alone. There are many drug combinations used to treat breast cancer.
The Types Of Radiotherapy
The type of radiotherapy you have will depend on the type of breast cancer and the type of surgery you have. Some women may not need to have radiotherapy at all.
Types of radiotherapy include:
- breast radiotherapy after breast-conserving surgery, radiation is applied to the whole of the remaining breast tissue
- chest-wall radiotherapy after a mastectomy, radiotherapy is applied to the chest wall
- breast boost some women may be offered a boost of high-dose radiotherapy in the area where the cancer was removed however, this may affect the appearance of your breast, particularly if you have large breasts, and can sometimes have other side effects, including hardening of breast tissue
- radiotherapy to the lymph nodes where radiotherapy is aimed at the armpit and the surrounding area to kill any cancer that may be in the lymph nodes
Don’t Miss: Estrogen Blockers For Breast Cancer
For Metastatic Breast Cancer
Chemo can be used as the main treatment for women whose cancer has spread outside the breast and underarm area to distant organs like the liver or lungs. Chemo can be given either when breast cancer is diagnosed or after initial treatments. The length of treatment depends on how well the chemo is working and how well you tolerate it.
Chemotherapy Regimens For Early
At some point, your medical oncologist will recommend a chemotherapy plan for you. Also called a chemotherapy regimen, the plan will have important details about your treatment, including:
- which drugs youre receiving
- the order in which you receive them
- the amount of each drug
- how often and how long you will need chemotherapy
Most women with early-stage breast cancer receive chemotherapy for approximately three to six months. Theres time in between treatments to allow your body to recover. If you are receiving targeted therapy for early HER2-positive breast cancer, treatment could last up to a year.
For some people, doctors may recommend a dose-dense chemotherapy regimen. Dose-dense chemotherapy means there is less time between treatments. You will not need to have a larger dose of chemotherapy.
Research has shown that dose-dense chemotherapy can improve survival and lower the risk of the breast cancer coming back compared to a traditional chemotherapy schedule. Dose-dense chemotherapy does not result in more side effects.
Recommended Reading: How Long Can U Live With Stage 4 Cancer
Also Check: Do Phytoestrogens Cause Breast Cancer
What You Can Expect
- Timing and frequency of chemotherapy sessionsChemotherapy for breast cancer is given in cycles. The cycle for chemotherapy can vary from once a week to once every three weeks. Each treatment session is followed by a period of recovery. Typically, if you have early-stage breast cancer, youll undergo chemotherapy treatmen
- Common drug combinationsThere are many chemotherapy drugs available. Because each person is different, your doctor will tailor the type and dose of medications often a combination of two or three chemotherapy drugs to your type of breast cancer and medical history.
How Will I Know If Chemotherapy Is Working
You will see your doctor often. During these visits, they will ask you how you feel, do a physical exam, and order medical tests and scans. Tests might include blood tests. Scans might include MRI, CT, or PET scans.
You cannot tell if chemotherapy is working based on its side effects. Some people think that severe side effects mean that chemotherapy is working well, or that no side effects mean that chemotherapy is not working. The truth is that side effects have nothing to do with how well chemotherapy is fighting your cancer.
Don’t Miss: Does Breast Cancer Metastasis To Liver
Search Methods For Identification Of Studies
The specialised register maintained by the Secretariat of the Cochrane Breast Cancer Group will be searched. Details of the search strategy applied by the Group to create the register, and the procedure used to code references, are described in the Group’s module on the Cochrane Library. Studies coded as “advanced” and “chemotherapy” on the specialised register will be extracted for consideration. In addition, the reference lists of other, related literature reviews will be searched.
A copy of the full article for each reference reporting a potentially eligible trial will be obtained.
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.
Recommended Reading: What Does Stage 3 Breast Cancer Look Like
How Long Does Chemo Prolong Life In Lung Cancer
Chemotherapy may prolong life in some lung cancer patients. According to a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at the role of chemotherapy at the end of life, chemo for some patients with a specific type of lung cancer prolonged their lives by two to three months.
How Long Is A Cycle Of Chemo
Chemotherapy often involves several sessions or cyles of treatment. A cycle of chemotherapy is the amount of time that elapses between the start of one round of chemotherapy to the start of the next.
Cancer Research UK states that it is very important for a person to receive their chemotherapy treatment in cycles. While chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells, they also kill fast-growing healthy cells within the body. Receiving chemotherapy in cycles helps to effectively kill off the cancerous cells, while allowing the persons body time to replenish its healthy cells.
A single course of chemotherapy will typically involve four to eight chemotherapy cycles. For instance, a 4-week cycle could involve someone taking medications on the first, second and third days, then no further medication until the 29th day.
A doctor will decide the length and structure of a persons chemotherapy cycles.
Chemotherapy treatment typically lasts between 36 months. However, some people will receive chemotherapy for shorter or longer periods of time.
Chemotherapy For Metastatic Breast Cancer
Advances in treatment are making it possible for women with metastatic breast cancer to live for many years. New drug therapies can not only slow down or stop a tumors growth but also keep symptoms at bay.
Which treatment your doctor recommends will vary based on your medical history, age, and breast cancer type, among other factors. Combinations of drugs are commonly prescribed for women with early-stage disease. Most women with advanced breast cancer generally receive only one drug at a time.
Chemotherapy drugs that MSK doctors commonly prescribe for advanced breast cancer include:
Women with advanced disease can also benefit from genomic testing. This is also called tumor sequencing or molecular profiling. It is offered to all MSK patients with metastatic breast cancer. Genomic testing involves looking at the cancer cells to see if there are any genetic mutations that could be linked to the specific type of breast cancer you have.
Our experts use a highly sophisticated testing approach developed by MSK researchers called MSK-IMPACT. The information gained from MSK-IMPACT can help us personalize your care. We can rule out drug therapies that may not work for you or sometimes recommend cutting-edge clinical trials designed to target the specific mutations in your tumor.
Average Length Of Chemotherapy
One course of chemo treatment may last between 3 to 6 months. Typically, one course consists of several on-and-off cycles. One cycle usually lasts 2 to 6 weeks.
Within each cycle, there are multiple treatment sessions. The sessions might take place once a day, week, or month. The duration of each session depends on its form.
Heres how long different types of intravenous chemo take:
- Injection. A syringe is used to deliver the drug in a few minutes.
- IV infusion. The drug flows into your body over a period lasting several minutes to several hours.
- Continuous infusion. A continuous infusion takes a day to several days.
Oral and topical chemotherapy are less time-consuming. Thats because they can be done at home on your own.
In oral chemo, you take the drug by mouth. The drug might be in the form of a:
Chemotherapy infusions can last several hours or days. Your healthcare provider can let you know how long each session will likely take.
Heres what you can do to feel more comfortable during each session:
Recommended Reading: Can Mri Detect Breast Cancer
Ovarian Ablation Or Suppression
In women who have not yet experienced the menopause, oestrogen is produced by the ovaries.
Ovarian ablation or suppression stops the ovaries working and producing oestrogen.
Ablation can be done using surgery or radiotherapy. It permanently stops the ovaries from working and means you’ll experience the menopause early.
Ovarian suppression involves using a medicine called goserelin, which is a luteinising hormone-releasing hormone agonist .
Your periods will stop while you’re taking it, although they should start again once your treatment is complete.
If you’re approaching the menopause , your periods may not start again after you stop taking goserelin.
Goserelin comes as an injection you have once a month.
Which Chemotherapy To Use In Early Breast Cancer
The successful history of adjuvant chemotherapy in early breast cancer started almost 4 decades ago when Bonadonna et al. in 1976 published the first report on the efficacy of cyclophosphamide, methotrexate, and fluorouracil as adjuvant treatment for node-positive breast cancer.
Later trials showed that substitution of methotrexate with epirubicin was even more efficacious both in terms of DFS and OS in premenopausal women with axillary node-positive breast cancer . The advantage of anthracycline-containing 3-drug combinations over CMF was unequivocally confirmed in an individual-patient data meta-analysis of the Early Breast Cancer Trialists Collaborative Group . Altogether, 100,000 patients in 123 randomized trials were included. Anthracycline-based regimens with substantially higher cumulative dosage than standard 4 × AC or CEF) were superior to standard CMF 0.78 p = 0.0004).
You May Like: Can Massaging Breast Cause Cancer
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.
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
Read Also: Can An Oval Breast Mass Be Cancer
How Does Ac Chemotherapy Work
Chemotherapy drugs interfere with how cancer cells develop and grow, and different drugs do this in different ways.
AC chemotherapy works by stopping the cancer cells from dividing and multiplying, which blocks the growth of the cancer.
Different chemotherapy drugs attack cancer cells at different stages of their growth. This is why a combination of drugs is often used instead of a single drug.
AC chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, which means it affects cells throughout the body.
Can You Get Chemo After Surgery
If you are receiving adjuvant chemotherapy , it is not possible for your doctor to directly determine whether the treatment is working because there are no tumor cells left to assess. However, adjuvant chemotherapy treatments have been proven helpful in studies in which some women were given chemotherapy, while others were not. If you are receiving chemotherapy for metastatic disease, the effects will be monitored, routinely, by blood tests, scans, and/or other imaging studies. These may include CT scans, bone scans, and/or X-rays).
Recommended Reading: How Does Breast Cancer Look
How Often You Receive Chemotherapy
Treatment schedules for chemotherapy vary widely. How often and how long you get chemotherapy depends on
- your type of cancer and how advanced it is
- whether chemotherapy is used to
- cure your cancer
You may receive chemotherapy in cycles. A cycle is a period of chemotherapy treatment followed by a period of rest. For instance, you might receive chemotherapy every day for 1 week followed by 3 weeks with no chemotherapy. These 4 weeks make up one cycle. The rest period gives your body a chance to recover and build new healthy cells.