Chemotherapy involves the administration of drugs that kill the cancer cells or stop them from growing. Most chemotherapy medications are given through an intravenous line, although some are administered in pill form. Chemotherapy is a harsh regime which often makes people feel more ill than the illness they are suffering from, however it has been proved to be very effective.
Chemotherapy is usually administered in cycles where each cycle consists of a period of intensive treatment which lasts for a few days or weeks followed by a week of recovery. Most patients with breast cancer have two to four cycles of chemotherapy to start with before tests are performed to see what effects it has had on the cancer.
Whole Body Treatment
Chemotherapy is different to radiation as it can treat the whole body with the potential of finding other tumor cells that have migrated from the breast and surrounding area. Many people are familiar with chemotherapys side effects although the side effects do depend upon which drugs are used to treat the patient.
The most common side effects are loss of hair, loss of appetite, fatigue, vomiting and low blood cell count making the patient more susceptible to infections, feeling sick or tired. Many notice that they bleed more than usual, especially from gums and small scrapes and sores etc.
Types of Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer
There are three different chemotherapy strategies are used in breast cancer:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ adjuvant chemotherapy this is given to patients who have undergone curative treatment for breast cancer such as radiation or surgery. This treatment is given to decrease the possibility of the breast cancer returning.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Pre-surgical chemotherapy this is given to shrink a large tumor and/or to kill any stray cancerous cells. This will also increase the chance that the surgery will kill the cancer completely.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Regular chemotherapy this is given routinely to people who have breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast or the surrounding local area.
Hormonal therapy may also be given as many breast cancers such as those that have ample estrogen or progesterone receptors are sensitive to changes in hormones.
In some breast cancer cases, a womans natural hormones are suppressed with drugs whereas other patients find benefits by adding hormones. Tamoxifen for instance is currently the most commonly prescribed effective hormone treatment. It can be used for treating breast cancer and also in the prevention of breast cancer. Tamoxifen has few side effects and can considerably improve the life span of those women who have advanced cases of breast cancer.
A further treatment, Fulvestrant has recently been approved in the USA. It is planned that it will be used for treating hormone receptor positive metastastic breast cancer in women who have been through the menopause. It is given following antiestrogen therapy.
Another treatment known as monoclonal is antibodies that are antagonistic against the proteins which are in or around cancer cells. They recognise an invader such as a cancer cell and attack it. This antibody therapy is currently being investigated and holds out a lot of hope for breast cancer sufferers.