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.
What To Expect At Each Chemotherapy Visit
Each chemotherapy visit lasts 1-6 hours. This includes time with your medical and nursing teams.
At each visit, your blood counts will be checked.
You may be given anti-nausea medications and other treatments to reduce some side effects.
A friend or family member may be able to stay with you during the visit. You may also choose to read, listen to music, watch TV or sleep.
Before you begin chemotherapy, talk with your health care provider about possible side effects and whether you need to have someone drive you home after each visit.
Learn about long-term side effects of chemotherapy.
What Are Some Common Side Effects Of Chemotherapy Used In Breast Cancer
Chemotherapy attacks cancer cells, but it can also attack healthy cells in your hair and gut. Chemotherapy side effects depend on the individual, the type of chemotherapy, the dosage and schedule, and the chemotherapy regimen being used.
In addition to some of the side effects mentioned above, chemotherapy used in breast cancer can cause the following more common side effects:
Easy bruising or bleeding
Chemotherapy effects can be bothersome, but sometimes necessary to receive effective treatment. Thankfully, however, there are other medications and strategies that can be used to help manage certain side effects. If youre receiving chemotherapy and you experience a bothersome side effect, make sure to mention it to your cancer specialist so they can help manage it.
If side effects are too bothersome or cannot be tolerated, your chemotherapy regimen may be altered, paused, or completely stopped.
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How Does Radiation Therapy Work
Radiation therapy uses special high-energy X-rays or particles to damage a cancer cells DNA. When a cancer cells DNA is damaged, it cant divide successfully and it dies.
Radiation therapy damages both healthy cells and cancer cells in the treatment area. Still, radiation affects cancer cells more than normal cells. Cancer cells grow and divide faster than healthy cells and also are less organized. Because of this, it’s harder for cancer cells to repair the damage done by radiation. So cancer cells are more easily destroyed by radiation, while healthy cells are better able to repair themselves and survive the treatment.
The treatment area may include the breast area, the lymph nodes, or another part of the body if the cancer has spread.
Radiation treatments are carefully planned to make sure you receive the greatest benefits and the fewest side effects possible.
- Brachytherapy/Internal Radiation
- Internal radiation, called brachytherapy by doctors, uses a radioactive substance sealed in seeds or tiny tubes that are placed inside your body directly into the cancer or the place where the cancer was. Read about brachytherapy.
Another type of radiation therapy, called intraoperative radiation therapy, is a type of partial-breast radiation. With intraoperative radiation therapy, the entire course of radiation is delivered at one time during breast cancer surgery. Read more about intraoperative radiation therapy.
How Often Is Chemotherapy Given For Breast Cancer
Chemotherapy for breast cancer is given in cycles, usually 2 to 3 weeks long, with a short break in between. This gives the body time to recover after receiving chemotherapy. Some chemotherapy is only given on one day per cycle, while others are given on multiple days per cycle. For example, gemcitabine is often given on day 1, day 8, and day 15 of an overall 28-day treatment cycle .
A chemotherapy schedule depends on the type of chemotherapy medications given. Chemotherapy is usually given over 3 to 6 months, or longer in some cases, depending on the type and stage of breast cancer. If you experience bothersome side effects or the treatment is no longer working, you may need to switch treatment to a different chemotherapy or therapy option.
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Chemo Brain And Stress
Many people experience mental changes after chemotherapy treatment. This is sometimes called chemo brain. You may have problems such as poor memory, trouble finding words, difficulty focusing. This can affect parts of your life, including caring for your family and managing your job.
Some things that help with chemo brain include keeping a calendar, writing everything down, and exercising your brain with puzzles and reading. Try to focus on 1 task at a time instead of more than 1 task. You can also work with an occupational therapist for cognitive behavioral rehabilitation. This is a treatment to help you if you have cognitive issues. Occupational therapists work in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Occupational and Physical Therapy. For more information about cognitive behavioral rehabilitation, talk with your healthcare provider for a referral.
Try to avoid having goals for yourself that are too high. This can add to your stress level and frustration. Most people say it takes 6 to 12 months after they finish chemotherapy before they truly feel like themselves again. Read the resource Managing Cognitive Changes for more information about managing chemo brain.
Plan On Having A Support Buddy
Some people plan on driving themselves to chemo if their first infusion goes well. Yet there are many reasons why it’s beneficial to have a chemo buddy who can drive you, take notes and help ask questions, and keep you company through your infusion.
There is a lot of information to digest at each visit, and having a friend with you doubles your chance that you won’t miss anything. Sometimes a chemo buddy is better able to detect if you have a reaction to the chemo drugs and can point this out to you early on.
The emotional support of having a friend can’t be understated. Even if you and your friend each read a book, watch a movie, and don’t talk, the presence of another person can lift your spirits. In our fast-paced world, we seldom have time to simply sit and talk with a friend for a few hours. Chemotherapy offers this opportunity.
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What Are The Risks Of Chemotherapy
Different chemotherapy medicines tend to cause different side effects. Many women do not have problems with these side effects, while other women are bothered a lot. There are other medicines you can take to treat the side effects of chemo.
Talk to your doctor about the type of chemotherapy medicine that he or she is planning to give you. Ask about any side effects that the chemo may cause.
Short-term side effects can include:
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Hair thinning or hair loss.
- Mouth sores.
- Increased chance of bruising, bleeding, and infection.
- Memory and concentration problems.
Long-term side effects of chemotherapy can include:
- Early menopause, which means not being able to have children anymore. It also can include symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and thinning bones .
- Concentration problems that may last for many months after your treatments are finished.
- In rare cases, heart damage and a higher risk of other types of cancers, such as leukemia.
How Chemotherapy Drugs Are Given
Most chemotherapy drugs for breast cancer are given by vein in an outpatient setting at a hospital or clinic. Often, a combination of 2 or 3 chemotherapy drugs is used.
At each visit, an IV is inserted into your arm, allowing the drugs to drip into the bloodstream.
A few chemotherapy drugs are pills.
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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.
Common Types Of Chemotherapy For Breast Cancer
Chemotherapy drugs are a specific class of medications called cytotoxic agents. Theyre designed to kill cancer cells.
Cancer cells grow faster than regular cells. These drugs disrupt the growth of fast-growing cells and leave slower-growing cells generally unharmed.
Some chemotherapy drugs damage the genetic material of the cells. Others interfere with the way the cells divide. However, some also affect other fast-growing cells in the body, such as hair, blood cells, and cells in the stomach lining and mouth. This accounts for some of the more common side effects.
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Effects On Your Digestive System
Chemotherapy can affect your digestive system in different ways. Some people get constipated, other people have diarrhoea. Your hospital will have its own guidelines, but if you have four or more episodes of diarrhoea within 24 hours contact you GP or treatment team. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
Some chemotherapy drugs can make indigestion more likely. Some may also cause heartburn, which is a burning feeling in the lower chest.
Let your chemotherapy team know if you have any of these side effects. They can prescribe medication to help and can give you information about diet. You can also be referred to a dietitian if necessary.
Alternative Therapy Used As Primary Treatment For Breast Cancer Negatively Impacts Outcomes
This study from Han et al was published in the Annals of Surgical Oncology in 2011, and may include some of the patients in the Chang analysis. This was a retrospective chart review of breast cancer patients who refused or delayed conventional treatments. 61 patients were identified. On average patients had Stage 2 disease at diagnosis, which is highly treatable and potentially curable. In patients that omitted or delayed surgery 96.2% had disease progression with 50% dying of the disease. At the time of diagnosis, the median tumor size was 2.0cm. Upon follow-up, the median-size was 7.8cm.
In patients that accepted surgery but rejected adjuvant therapy , the initial 10-year relapse-free survival was estimated at 59.2%, which would have been 74.3% had the patients accepted these treatments. Actual outcomes were much worse than predicted. The actual observed relapse-free survival was only 13.8%. Some subsequently elected to take palliative chemotherapy and radiation to control their disease. From this study we can conclude that refusing or delaying conventional cancer care is associated with much worse outcomes.
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Causes Of Breast Cancer In Cats
Breast cancer is a multifactorial disease, meaning it has many causes- and many of them are not fully understood. Studies have shown that hormones are partially to blame- as with dogs, neutering at a young age rather than allowing heat cycles massively reduces the risk of mammary neoplasia in cats.
Some medications that mimic or include hormones have the same effect on breast tissue as natural hormones do. These medications are rarely used in modern medicine but may have had an effect in the past.
Retroviruses have also been isolated from tumors, but its not been proven that infection with these viruses causes a tumor to occur.
Lastly, genetics definitely play a role, as evidenced by the higher risk in certain breeds .
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.
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Who Is On My Chemotherapy Team
A highly trained medical team will work together to give you the best possible care. Your team may include these health care professionals:
Medical oncologist. This type of doctor specializes in treating cancer with medication. Your medical oncologist works closely with other team members to create your overall cancer treatment plan. They also lead your chemotherapy treatments.
Advanced providers, like oncology nurse practitioners and oncology physician assistants . These providers meet with patients and collaborate with a supervising medical oncologist. Their responsibilities can include:
Giving physical examinations
Ordering and interpreting laboratory and diagnostic test results
Prescribing and administering medications and other therapies, including chemotherapy
Providing education and counseling for patients and families
Oncology nurse. An oncology nurse specializes in cancer care. This includes giving chemotherapy. Oncology nurses can also:
Answer questions about treatment
Monitor your health during treatment
Help you manage side effects of treatment
Other health care professionals. Other team members may help care for your physical, emotional, and social needs during chemotherapy. These professionals include:
Learn more about the oncology team.
Before Starting Ac Chemotherapy
Before starting your treatment some hospitals will arrange a chemotherapy information session. At this appointment a nurse will discuss how and when your chemotherapy will be given and how side effects can be managed.
You may have bloods tests and some people will have an ECG , a simple test that checks your heart rhythm. Your height and weight will also be measured.
Contact numbers will be given so you know who to phone if you have any questions or concerns.
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Side Effects Of Chemotherapy For Breast Cancer
Like any treatment, chemotherapy can cause side effects. Everyone reacts differently to drugs and some people have more side effects than others. These side effects can usually be managed and those described here will not affect everyone.
Your treatment team will give you information about the drugs you are having, details of any side effects they may cause and how these can be controlled or managed.
Before starting chemotherapy you should be given a 24-hour contact number or told who to contact if you feel unwell at any time during your treatment, including at night or at the weekends.
Between each cycle of chemotherapy, youll have an assessment to see how youre feeling and whether youve had any side effects.
If you are concerned about any side effects, regardless of whether they are listed here, talk to your treatment team as soon as possible.
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.
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Radiation Therapy Side Effects
The side effects of radiation therapy depend on the type of radiation therapy youre having. In general, the side effects tend to develop as treatment goes on and may be more troubling toward the end of treatment. Overall, the most common side effects are redness, swelling, and skin peeling in the area being treated. Read more about radiation therapy side effects.
Life With Cancer Changes How We See You
Of course, cancer changes how we see youif it changes how we see ourselves, it changes how we see the world around us. As we see our roles in families and friendships change, the roles others play change as well.
The changes in the way we see you often reflect our new grasp of mortality, and often these are positive. Studies say that cancer survivors often have a renewed sense of the value of friendships and a heightened sense of empathy.
Cancer gives us this unique “opportunity” to experience emotions we may have only dabbled in before, and in doing so, feel more connected to others when they experience these emotions.
Cancer tends to make people value life more, all life.
That said, there are times that cancer survivors can become more irritated with friends than they would have in the past. One cancer survivor said she is much more tolerant of her girlfriends moments of depression, but can’t handle it when she complains about not being able to find a parking spot near the door of a store.
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