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Advanced Breast Cancer: Managing Your Medical Care: Diagnosis To Treatment Decision

If Chemotherapy Is Recommended.

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Chemotherapy uses to kill cancer cells with drugs. Chemotherapy is a systemic therapy which means it works throughout your system, not just in one place.

The drugs are given orally (in the form of a pill) or they are injected intravenously into a vein.

Chemotherapy may be used before or after surgery.

  • When used before surgery, chemotherapy is used to reduce a large tumor before it is removed.
  • When used after surgery, chemotherapy is used to eliminate any cancer cells that may have already moved beyond the breast to other parts of the body. Systemic therapy is meant to eliminate that risk.
  • Prior to starting chemotherapy, many medical oncologists provide patients with a chemotherapy treatment plan that summaries your cancer and the proposed treatment(s). If your doctor doesn't, ask for one. (You can see a template for such a plan on the website of ASCO - American Society of Clinical Oncologists. Click here. offsite link)

Chemotherapy requires medical expertise. It is in your interest to have chemotherapy administered by a medical oncologist who:

  • Is board-certified in medical oncology (the medical treatment of tumors, particularly malignant tumors).
  • Has extensive experience and skill in the treatment of breast cancer.
  • Is someone with whom you can comfortably relate.
  • Has an office that offers you privacy while undergoing therapy if you so choose.

Do not accept treatment from a surgeon or local doctor just because the person says he or she can do it. Expertise in the use of these techniques is essential.

If you are still able to have children, and want to do so, take steps to preserve the ability to have children before chemotherapy begins.

NOTE: More than half of women with breast cancer who undergo chemotherapy experience weight gain. This should be avoided because weight gain during therapy can diminish quality of life and may increase the risk of cancer recurrence. Therefore, breast cancer patients should avoid gaining weight, and lose weight if overweight. A combination of psychological support, nutritional counseling and exercise help to maintain or lose weight. Consider starting this healthy lifestyle before starting chemotherapy (and, of course, continuing it throughout the chemotherapy treatment.)

For more information on chemotherapy and breast cancer, including potential side effects and how to minimize them, see the document in "To Learn More."

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