Chemotherapy is a treatment that involves the use of medication to destroy cancer cells. It is used as a part of the breast cancer treatment plan. This procedure may be given prior to surgery (neo-adjuvant chemotherapy) to reduce the size of large tumors so that a less extensive surgery can be performed to completely remove the tumor, or after surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy) to kill any stray cancer cells that may remain even after surgery, preventing the tumor from recurring.
Chemotherapy is administered orally or intravenously, and is most effective when given as a combination of 2 or more drugs. The drugs travel through the blood stream to reach the breasts and attack the rapidly dividing cancer cells. This therapy is given in cycles, wherein each session of chemotherapy is followed by a period of rest during which time your body can recuperate from the effects of treatment. The period of each cycle varies based on the type of drug used, and the duration of chemotherapy lasts for about 3 to 6 months depending on the severity of your cancer.
Since chemotherapy drugs are designed to target rapidly dividing cells they may also affect other rigorously dividing cells in the body such as the bone marrow cells, hair follicle cells and the cells lining the mouth or the intestine. Some of the most common side effects include:
- Low blood cell count
- Hair loss
- Increased risk for infections
- Mouth sores
- Loss or increase of appetite
The severity of the side-effects caused depends on the type of drug, its dosage, and the duration of your treatment. Your doctor monitor’s your response and side-effects you may develop from these drugs, and accordingly continues or changes the medications as needed.