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What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses anticancer medicines to kill cancer cells. The medicines are made to attack and kill cancer cells that grow quickly. Some normal cells also grow quickly. Because of this, chemotherapy can also harm those cells, which can cause side effects.

When might chemotherapy be used for breast cancer?

Chemotherapy may be able to cure breast cancer. This means the tumor disappears and doesn’t grow back. If a cure isn’t possible, chemotherapy may help keep the cancer from growing or spreading. If the cancer is advanced and can’t be controlled, chemotherapy may help ease symptoms caused by cancer and improve your quality of life. A doctor with special training in cancer treatment (oncologist) will talk to you about the goals of chemotherapy and the best treatment plan for you.

Your doctor may advise chemotherapy in any of these situations:

  • Before your surgery or radiation. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Chemotherapy may be used to shrink the tumor so that it’s smaller and may allow you to have breast-conserving surgery.
  • After surgery. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy. Adjuvant chemotherapy helps keep any cancer cells that are left from growing and spreading. Whether your doctor advises it depends on the size of the tumor, if it has spread to lymph nodes, and other factors. Chemotherapy is often given after surgery to remove breast cancer, and may be given every 2 or 3 weeks.
  • When the breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body. Chemotherapy is a systemic therapy. This means it travels around the body to kill cancer cells. So it can be used to kill cancer cells that have spread. How long this treatment lasts depends on how much the tumors shrink.

Click here to learn more about chemotherapy and the side effects.