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Chemotherapy is treatment with cancer-killing drugs that may be given injected or by mouth.

Chemotherapy can either be systemic (throughout the entire body) or targeted (only affects a particular area). When chemo is systemic, the drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach cancer cells in most parts of the body. 

Chemotherapy is often given with a combination of drugs to maximize effectiveness. Effectiveness is monitored during the course of treatment. If there are indications that the treatment is not working, a change in treatment is usually recommended.
Chemotherapy is generally given in cycles. Each period of treatment is followed by a recovery period. Treatment usually lasts for several months.

NOTE: If a family member or friend accompanies you to at least the first few treatments, anxiety levels are usually reduced.

For additional information about chemotherapy, see:

When Is Chemotherapy Given With Respect To Breast Cancer?

There are several situations in which chemotherapy may be recommended.

Adjuvant chemotherapy: 

  • Systemic therapy given to patients after surgery who have no evidence of cancer spread is called adjuvant therapy. When used as adjuvant therapy after breast-conserving surgery or mastectomy, chemotherapy reduces the risk of breast cancer coming back.
  • Even in the early stages of the disease, cancer cells may break away from the primary breast tumor and spread through the bloodstream. These cells don't cause symptoms, they don't show up on imaging tests, and they can't be felt during a physical exam. But if they are allowed to grow, they can establish new tumors in other places in the body. The goal of adjuvant chemotherapy is to kill undetected cells that have traveled from the breast.


Neoadjuvant chemotherapy: Chemotherapy for advanced breast cancer: 

  • Chemotherapy given before surgery is called neoadjuvant therapy. The major benefit of neoadjuvant chemotherapy is that it can shrink large cancers so that they are small enough to be removed by lumpectomy instead of mastectomy. Another possible advantage of neoadjuvant chemotherapy is that doctors can see how the cancer responds to chemotherapy. If the tumor does not shrink, your doctor may try different chemotherapy drugs.
  • Chemotherapy can also be used as the main treatment for women whose cancer has already spread outside the breast and underarm area at the time it is diagnosed, or if it spreads after initial treatments. The length of treatment depends on whether the cancer shrinks, how much it shrinks, and how a woman tolerates treatment.