Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer drugs, known as cytotoxic drugs, to destroy cancer cells. The drugs travel in the bloodstream to attack cancer cells throughout the body. It is one of the most powerful tools we have to fight cancer. It kills cancer cells in the whole body by interfering with cell growth and division, but . not all chemotherapy is alike and not all breast cancer patients are alike. Because you are unique as a breast cancer patient, your chemotherapy regimen will be tailored to your particular needs.
There are two kinds of chemotherapy:
- Adjuvant – Used in conjunction with, or in addition to, surgery and/or radiation.
- Neo-adjuvant – Given before surgery to shrink the tumor so that surgery will be less extensive.
Chemotherapy is given in one of the following ways:
- Intravenously (I.V.) – an injection in a vein
- An injection in a vein
- Central Access Device (also called a vascular device or central line) –a port is placed in the body where the drug will be injected to avoid damaging healthy tissue with toxic chemotherapy drugs
- Orally (P.O.) – medication taken by swallowing a pill
When is chemotherapy used?
Chemotherapy may be used if the secondary cancer is growing quickly or has affected the liver or lungs. It may also be used after hormonal therapy, if the hormonal therapy is no longer controlling the cancer.
Which chemotherapy drugs are used?
Many different chemotherapy drugs are used to treat secondary breast cancer. The drugs can either be used on their own (single agents) or together (combination chemotherapy).
Among the most commonly used combination chemotherapy treatments are AC (doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide), FEC (5-Fluorouracil, epirubicin and cyclophosphamide), and CMF (cyclophosphamide, methotrexate and 5-fluorouracil). Docetaxel (Taxotere®), paclitaxel (Taxol), vinorelbine (Navelbine®) or gemcitabine (Gemzar®) may be used.
A chemotherapy tablet called capecitabine (Xeloda®) is sometimes used, usually on its own but sometimes in combination with docetaxel.
Your oncologist (cancer doctor) is the best person to decide which type of chemotherapy treatment is suitable for you, and can discuss the benefits and possible side effects.
How chemotherapy is given
The chemotherapy is usually given as a series of treatments known as cycles. The drugs may be given weekly or every three weeks. Your complete treatment may last for several months. Although some chemotherapy drugs can be given as tablets or capsules (orally) to be taken at home, most are given by injection into a vein in the arm (intravenously). Chemotherapy into a vein is usually given in the chemotherapy department as a day case.