Chemotherapy is responsible for great advances in curing breast cancer. The mortality rate of breast cancer decreases every year due to improved chemotherapy medications and more use of chemotherapy. There are also more effective medications and therapies to minimize the side effects of chemotherapy. Generally, chemotherapy is given every 2-3 weeks for 4-6 months. A special IV is placed in the arm (“passport” ) or in the upper chest area (“porta catheter” or “port”). These special IVs allow for easy blood collections, fluid and medication administration. They are removed once chemotherapy is completed. Chemotherapy is typically provided to patients who will receive significant benefit from the treatment.
Oncologists may use genetic tests (Oncotype DX and MammaPrint) that determine the genes within the breast tumor itself. These tests help predict the risk that a tumor may spread beyond the breast and whether the risk of death may be lessened by chemotherapy. The patients with a higher risk may benefit greatly from chemotherapy. Patients at a lower risk may not need chemotherapy.
Certain breast cancer tumors, including estrogen negative tumors and HER2/neu amplified tumors are aggressive and chemotherapy is strongly recommended.
Chemotherapy medications are effective when used alone or in combination against breast cancer. These medications include: Taxanes (taxotere or taxol), Cytoxan (tc), Adriamycin, Carboplatin, Cisplatin, Herceptin, Tykurb, and Avastin. There are new drugs being developed that target specific characteristics of breast cancer tumors which is very exciting.