Breast Cancer: Chemotherapy

Chemotherapies are drugs that kill cancer cells. These drugs can travel nearly everywhere in the body to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy often is used with surgery and radiation therapy, which only treat cancer in a specific part of the body.

 

If you have invasive cancer or certain combinations of breast cancer receptors (such as HER2+ or triple-negative), chemotherapy may be needed. Chemotherapy can help kill cancer cells that may have moved beyond your breast and lymph nodes, and it helps keep the cancer cells from growing in other parts of your body.

 

Why do I need chemotherapy?

 

Chemotherapy is given to:

  • Prevent cancer from coming back (recurrence)
  • Slow the growth of cancer
  • Control symptoms caused by cancer

Your medical oncologist is an expert who will plan your treatments based on the:

  • Kind of cancer
  • Location of the cancer
  • Side effects that cancer or treatments could have on your body and health

How will I receive chemotherapy?

 

Most breast cancer chemotherapies are given intravenously (IV) – directly into the vein. They also may be given orally (a pill by mouth).

 

What is the timing and sequence for common breast cancer chemotheraphies?

 

For neoadjuvant and adjuvant chemotherapies, two or three drugs may be given together or in sequence. Your medical oncologist will determine the exact timing and sequence. In the palliative setting, only one chemotherapy is given at a time.

 

The most common neoadjuvant or adjuvant therapies for breast cancer at UW Health are:

  • AC: Adriamycin (also known as doxorubicin) combined with Cytoxan (also known as cyclophosphamide)
  • TC: Taxotere (also known as docetaxel) combined with Cytoxan (also known as cyclophosphamide)
  • AC-T: Adriamycin (also known as doxorubicin) combined with Cytoxan (also known as cyclophosphamide) followed by Taxol (also known as paclitaxel)
  • AC-THP: Adriamycin (also known as doxorubicin) combined with Cytoxan (also known as cyclophosphamide) followed by Taxol (also known as paclitaxel) combined with Herceptin (also known as trastuzumab) and Perjeta (also known as pertuzumab). Trastuzumab and pertuzumab are not chemotherapies – they are antibodies against HER2.
  • TCHP: Taxotere (also known as docetaxel) carboplatin combined with Herceptin (also known as trastuzumab) and Perjeta (also known as pertuzumab). Trastuzumab and pertuzumab are not chemotherapies – they are antibodies against HER2.

The most common palliative chemotherapies are:

  • Capecitabine (Xeloda)
  • Docetaxel (Taxotere)
  • Paclitaxel (Taxol) or nab-paclitaxel (Abraxane)
  • Eribulin (Halaven)
  • Ixabepilone (Ixempra)
  • Gemcitabine (Gemzar)
  • Vinorelbine (Navelbine)
  • Liposomal doxorubicin (Doxil)

Does UW Health offer scalp cooling caps?

 

Yes. One of the difficult side effects of chemotherapy is hair loss. Cooling caps, also called scalp hypothermia, are silicone caps cooled to very low temperatures that you wear before, during and after a chemotherapy treatment to help reduce or prevent this hair loss. Cooling cap systems are FDA approved in women with breast cancer. Learn more about Scalp Cooling Caps

 

Where will I receive chemotherapy?

 

Chemotherapy is given at two locations:

Frequently Asked Questions about medical oncology treatments for breast cancer