What is Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer?

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment. It involves taking medications that destroy or shrink cancer cells. If you have breast cancer, you may have chemotherapy as the only treatment. Or you may have chemotherapy before or after surgery. Side effects of chemotherapy may include nausea, fatigue and hair loss.

Why is chemotherapy used for breast cancer? Not everyone who has breast cancer needs chemotherapy. Depending on the cancer stage, your oncologist (cancer doctor) may recommend chemotherapy: Before surgery (neoadjuvant chemotherapy): 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 (adjuvant chemotherapy): Sometimes, cancerous cells remain in your body but don’t 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 (breast cancer recurrence). For advanced cancer: If breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body (metastasized), chemotherapy may be the main treatment. For IBC: Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) doesn’t have a lump that a surgeon can remove easily. Chemotherapy often is the first treatment for IBC.

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