Why Is Chemotherapy Used For Breast Cancer
Not everyone who has breast cancer needs chemotherapy. Depending on the cancer stage, your oncologist may recommend chemotherapy:
- Before surgery : You may have chemotherapy to shrink a tumor. This option could make it possible to have a less-extensive surgery. It may also allow healthcare providers to discover more about the biology of the cancer itself by how it responds to chemotherapy.
- After surgery : Sometimes, cancerous cells remain in your body but dont show up on imaging tests. Your healthcare provider may recommend chemotherapy after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. This treatment can also reduce the risk of the cancer from returning .
- For advanced cancer: If breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body , chemotherapy may be the main treatment.
- For IBC: Inflammatory breast cancer doesnt have a lump that a surgeon can remove easily. Chemotherapy often is the first treatment for IBC.
Are There Ways To Prevent Hair Loss With Chemotherapy
Not everyone loses hair when receiving chemotherapy, but many people do. Some peoples hair only thins. Others lose the majority or all of their hair.
Using a cold cap can reduce hair loss. Cold caps cool your scalp before, during and after chemotherapy treatment. Cooling tightens the blood vessels in your scalp, potentially reducing how much chemotherapy goes to your hair follicles.
People may choose to wear a wig as a result of hair loss. Some private insurance companies may help cover wig costs if your doctor prescribes a cranial prosthesis or hair prosthesis. Medicare Parts A and B do not cover wigs, but the costs may be tax-deductible.
Inflammatory Breast Cancer Treatment
Inflammatory breast cancer is an uncommon and aggressive type of breast cancer caused by cancer cells blocking lymph vessels in the skin.
All IBC cases are classified as at least stage 3 breast cancer. If the cancer is metastatic , its considered stage 4.
Treatments for IBC depend on what stage the cancer is in.
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Sex Contraception And Pregnancy
You can still have sex during treatment. Its thought that chemotherapy drugs cant pass into vaginal fluids or semen, but this cant be completely ruled out as chemotherapy drugs can pass into the blood and some other body fluids. Most treatment teams will advise using barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms during treatment, and for a few days after chemotherapy is given.
If you havent been through the menopause, its important to use contraception because chemotherapy drugs can harm a developing baby in the first three months of pregnancy. Its still possible to become pregnant even if your periods become irregular or stop completely.
Your specialist will usually recommend barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms. The contraceptive pill is not usually recommended because it contains hormones. Emergency contraception such as the morning after pill can still be used.
An interuterine device can be used as long as its not the type that releases hormones. If you have a coil in place that does release hormones, such as the Mirena or Jaydess, when youre diagnosed, you may be advised to have this removed.
Factors Affecting Chemotherapy Duration
Cancer Research UK notes that the length of a persons chemotherapy treatment and the structure and length of their cycles depends on the following factors:
- the type of cancer and its stage
- the chemotherapy medications the doctor prescribes
- the cancers response to the medications
- the nature and severity of side effects from the medications
Since chemotherapy drugs can harm healthy cells, a person needs to excrete as much chemotherapy medication as possible before receiving another treatment cycle.
Different chemotherapy drugs remain in the body for different amounts of time. Some examples are as follows:
could increase the amount of time that chemotherapy drugs remain in the persons system:
- interactions between the chemotherapy drugs and any other drugs the person is taking
- liver or kidney dysfunction caused by tumors or cancers
- liver or kidney dysfunction caused by cancer therapies
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Why Isnt A Cure The Goal
It can be painful and shocking when you come to understand the differences between what chemotherapy may offer for early-stage breast cancer and what it may accomplish for metastatic breast cancer.
It is not that doctors dont want to attempt to cure advanced breast cancer with chemotherapy. They do. Its just that with the drugs we currently have, and the resistance which develops over time, the odds of chemotherapy curing an advanced cancer are very low. This is true even if you are treated with extremely high doses of several powerful drugs.
According to studies, many people who have breast cancer are expecting that chemotherapy will cure their metastatic cancer. There are some cancers that respond and continue to respond to chemotherapy for a long time. Still, its important to understand what chemotherapy can and cant do with the drugs we currently have.
If you are still hoping for a cure, talk to your doctor. At this time there are not any approved medications that can cure metastatic breast cancer, though new medications are always being evaluated in clinical trials. For a few people, some of these newer medications, such as immunotherapy drugs, may offer a greater chance for long-term survivalbut we dont know for sure, and that is why theyre being studied.
Breast Cancer Doctor Discussion Guide
Get our printable guide for your next doctors appointment to help you ask the right questions.
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Will The Nhs Fund An Unlicensed Medicine
Its possible for your doctor to prescribe a medicine outside the uses its licensed for if theyre willing to take personal responsibility for this off-licence use of treatment.
Your local clinical commissioning group may need to be involved, as it would have to decide whether to support your doctors decision and pay for the medicine from NHS budgets.
Page last reviewed: 28 October 2019 Next review due: 28 October 2022
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Are Some Therapies More Effective Based On Stage
The type of radiation treatment you get depends on the stage of breast cancer. People with early to stage 3 breast cancer will benefit most from radiation treatment. Radiation can also help ease side effects in people with advanced breast cancer.
External whole breast radiation works best:
- for early stage to stage 3 breast cancer
- for tumors that are an inch or smaller
- if the cancer is in one spot
- if you had breast-saving surgery or a mastectomy
External beam radiation can also help treat side effects of advanced breast cancer.
Internal radiation works best:
- for early stage breast cancer
- if the cancer is in one spot
- if you had breast-saving surgery or a mastectomy
Sometimes, a person with advanced breast cancer will have internal radiation.
Intraoperative radiation works best:
- during early stage breast cancer
- when the tumor is too close to healthy tissue for external radiation to be possible
Not everyone can have intraoperative radiation or internal beam radiation. Whether you can have these procedures depends on:
- size and location of the tumor
- size of your breast
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.
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Common Chemotherapy Drugs For Breast Cancer
Chemotherapy drugs used to treat early breast cancer include:
Other Drug Treatments For Cancer
The traditional drugs used for chemotherapy are an important part of treatment for many cancers. The drugs affect both cancer cells and healthy cells. But scientists have designed newer drugs that work more specifically to treat cancer. These treatments cause different side effects.
Doctors may use these newer cancer drugs as the only drug treatment. But they are often added to traditional chemotherapy. These types of treatment include:
Hormonal therapy. These treatments change the amount of hormones in your body. Hormones are chemicals your body makes naturally. They help control the activity of certain cells or organs. Doctors use hormonal therapy because hormone levels control several types of cancers. These include some breast and prostate cancers.
Targeted therapy. These treatments target and disable genes or proteins found in cancer cells that the cancer cells need to grow.
Immunotherapy. This type of treatment helps your bodys natural defenses fight the cancer. Immunotherapy is now an important part of treatment for several types of cancer and will play an increasingly important role in treatment in the future.
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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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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 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 strongly encouraged to consider clinical trials as an option. A clinical trial is a research study that tests a new approach to treatment. Doctors want to learn whether the 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 treatment than what is usually done as the standard of care. Clinical trials are an option to consider for treatment and care 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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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.
How I Feel During Round 1
I feel as if I am constantly on coming off of the most intense roller coaster EVER. Big time motion sickness! This lasted for almost a full week for me. Sitting up in bed was even tricky. My mother in law and husband were always close by in case I needed help walking to the restroom. I have not been alone, which is a blessing.
Here are some details about the photo above:
The pic of me in the chair was taken on March 26, 2018 and was my first chemo infusion. After this round, right before my 2nd dose, I felt better and decided to cut off my hair before it fell out everywhere. The short hair selfie pic was taken on my way to my second treatment, I think. Finally, the bottom right pic was taken maybe 4 or 5 days after my super cut cut! My hair was really, really falling out all over the house, so my husband gave me a buzz cut.
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Will I Be Able To Work While I Am Having Treatment
Most women are able to continue working during chemotherapy if they wish to. If you plan to keep working, it helps to have a supportive work place that gives you flexible work hours. You may need to have a few days off after each cycle of chemotherapy and when you get back to work you may find it difficult to work long hours. Your doctor can provide a medical certificate for time off this can be just a few days or a few months depending on your individual situation.
Preparing For Side Effects
You may experience a range of side effects from chemotherapy, including:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- Dry, red, and itchy skin
- Memory issues
- Hearing loss or ringing in the ears
Not everyone will experience every single side effect of chemo, however it is important that you are prepared in case you do. If your doctor has prescribed you medications to manage the side effects, you should make sure you have them handy in case you need them.
Some side effects can go away quickly, while others may last for monthsor even yearsafter your treatment. Its important that you talk to your doctor about any side effects that you have. They can prepare you for them and help you manage them.
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What To Expect During Chemotherapy
Having your first chemotherapy treatment can be scary, but knowing what to expect can help lessen any anxiety you might be feeling.
Bringing a friend or family member with you can help because they can provide support and be an extra set of ears for information that is given to you by your providers about your treatments and side effects.
In some cases, you will also need a ride home because you might be given medications that can make you sleep during your treatment.
Once you have arrived at the place where you will receive your treatment, you may have to meet with your oncologist or other health professionals. They will check your vital signs, including your blood pressure, pulse, breathing, and temperature.
Your height and weight will also be taken to help make sure that the proper dose of chemotherapy is given to you.
External Beam Breast Cancer Radiation
External beam radiation is the most common kind of radiation treatment for breast cancer. Its a painless treatment, like getting an X-ray. A doctor will place a machine on the outside of your body and aim the radiation beams at the area of the cancer. Your doctor will figure out where to aim the rays and how much radiation to use before each treatment. They will mark the area with temporary or permanent ink.
Each treatment only lasts a few minutes. The session setup will take longer. External radiation treatment happens five days a week for about five to seven weeks. Its the longest type of radiation treatment available.
Short-term side effects of external radiation include:
- swelling and pain in the arm or chest
- weakened and fractured ribs
- future cancer in the inner lining of your blood vessels
External radiation does not leave radiation in your body. You will not be radioactive during or after treatment.
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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
How Does Chemotherapy Work
Chemotherapy works by attacking fast-growing cells in your body, including cancer cells. There are many different types of chemotherapy your medical oncologist will talk to you about whats most suitable for you. Sometimes more than one type of treatment may be effective for you, and you may be asked to decide which one to have. Your medical oncologist can tell you about the pros and cons of each.
Some questions you might like to ask include:
- What are the possible side effects of each treatment?
- How long is the course of each treatment?
- How will the treatment fit in with my lifestyle and personal circumstances?
Some chemotherapy drugs are given in tablet form, however, most are administered intravenously . As a result, it is useful to drink plenty of fluids, relax and keep your hands and arms warm, as this can help the nurse or doctor find your veins.
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