The program of therapy prescribed for you depends on several factors including: tumor size, lymph node status, cell type, hormone receptor tests, cell growth patterns, your age and health, menopausal status, and evidence of spread of cancer to other body parts. We want you to understand your treatment plan and encourage you to be actively involved.
Chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy may be part of your treatment program for breast cancer. These therapies are used to:
- Decrease the chances that cancer will come back after breast cancer surgery
- Shrink the breast tumor before surgery
- Control breast cancer that has come back
Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to kill or stop the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs travel throughout the body and thus are called "systemic" treatment. The drugs are most often injected into the bloodstream through an intravenous needle or through an implanted catheter. Chemotherapy can also be given in pill form. Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles during which you have treatments for a short time and then you have 3 to 4 weeks off before beginning another cycle.
Chemotherapy affects all fast-growing cells throughout the body. Therefore, in addition to killing cancer cells, it also kills fast-growing normal cells. This is what may cause side effects such as hair loss, low blood counts, mouth sores, and tiredness. Your doctors and nurses will work with you to control, lessen or avoid the side effects of chemotherapy. You will be given specific information on chemotherapy planned for you.
If chemotherapy is part of your treatment plan, it will be given in the Breast Care Center Infusion Area. Nurses with expertise in cancer care will give you treatments.
Hormonal therapy is used to prevent the growth, spread, or recurrence of breast cancer. If your lab tests show that your tumor depended on your natural hormones to grow, it will be described as estrogen-positive (ER+) or progesterone-positive (PR+) in the lab report. This means that any remaining cancer cells may continue to grow when these hormones are present in your body. Hormonal therapy can block your body's natural hormones from reaching any remaining cancer cells. One of the most common drugs used for hormonal therapy for breast cancer is Tamoxifen. A new group of hormonal therapies called aromatase inhibitors may also be an option.