Why it's doneBy Mayo Clinic staff
Chemotherapy for breast cancer may be given in the following situations:
Chemotherapy after surgery for early breast cancer
After surgical removal of a tumor from a breast, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer and to reduce your risk of the cancer recurring. This is known as adjuvant chemotherapy.
Your doctor may recommend adjuvant chemotherapy if you have a high risk of the cancer recurring or spreading to other parts of your body (metastasizing), even if there is no evidence of any cancer left after surgery. You may be at higher risk of metastasis if cancer cells are found in lymph nodes near the breast with the tumor. It's important to talk to your doctor about how much the chemotherapy will reduce your chance of the cancer coming back, and whether this decrease in risk is worth the side effects of the chemotherapy. Also discuss with your doctor other possible alternatives, such as hormone-blocking therapy, that might be effective in your situation.
Chemotherapy before surgery for early breast cancer
Some women with breast cancer receive chemotherapy before surgery (neoadjuvant therapy), generally to shrink large tumors and allow the surgeon the best possible chance of completely removing the tumor. In some cases, neoadjuvant therapy also allows the surgeon to remove only the tumor, rather than the entire breast.
Chemotherapy as the primary treatment for advanced breast cancer
If breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body and surgery isn't an option, chemotherapy can be used as the primary treatment. It also may be used in conjunction with hormone therapy or targeted therapy, depending on the type of breast cancer you have. Chemotherapy for advanced breast cancer is generally palliative in nature, meaning its main goal is to improve quality and length of life rather than to cure the disease. In a very few cases, though, chemotherapy can lead to total remission of the cancer.
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