Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer
Breast cancer chemotherapy is usually given in cycles, during which you have treatment for a period of time, and then you have a few weeks to recover before your next treatment. Depending on the drugs you take, you may have your chemotherapy at home, in your doctor's office, in a clinic, in a hospital's outpatient department, or in a hospital.
How often and how long you have chemotherapy will depend on the type and stage of breast cancer, the drugs that are used and how your body responds to them, and the goals of the treatment. You should follow the schedule prescribed by your doctor.
Throughout your chemotherapy treatment, your oncologist and nurse will watch how you respond to the therapy. You will have frequent physical exams and blood tests. You should check with your doctor before taking any other medications during your treatment.
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, mouth sores, and fatigue. Today, because of what has been learned in research studies, doctors are able to control, lessen, or avoid many side effects of chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy for breast cancer can cause short-term and long-term side effects that are different for each patient, depending on the drugs used.
The most common short-term side effects that may appear during chemotherapy include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight change
- Mouth sores
- Throat soreness.
Some of these problems may continue for some time after chemotherapy ends.
Some drugs cause short-term hair loss. Your hair will grow back, either during treatment or after treatment is completed. Before you start chemotherapy, you may want to have your hair cut short, or buy a wig, hat, or scarves that you can wear while you are going through treatment.
Serious long-term side effects of breast cancer chemotherapy may include:
- Weakening of your heart
- Damage to your ovaries
- Early menopause
- Second cancers, such as leukemia (cancer of the blood).
These side effects may not appear until later, some time after chemotherapy is completed.