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Breast Cancer Health Center

Breast Cancer and Chemotherapy

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How Will I Know Chemotherapy Is Working?

Some people think that their chemotherapy treatment is not working if they do not experience side effects. This is just a myth.

If you are receiving adjuvant chemotherapy (after surgery that removed all of the known cancer), it is not possible for your doctor to directly determine whether the treatment is working, because there are no tumors left to assess. The only way to determine the effectiveness of adjuvant chemotherapy is over time. Studies have shown that adjuvant chemotherapy treatments are effective in some women.

After completing adjuvant therapy, your doctor will evaluate your progress through periodic physical exams, routine mammography, and appropriate testing if a new problem develops. If you are receiving chemotherapy for metastatic disease, progress will be monitored by blood tests, scans, and/or X-rays.

What Are the Potential Side Effects of Chemotherapy Drugs?

The specific chemotherapy side effects you will experience depend on the type and amount of medications you are given and how long you will be taking them. The most common temporary side effects include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Changes in menstrual cycle
  • Higher risk of infection (due to decreased white blood cells)
  • Bruising or bleeding
  • Fatigue

Ask your health care provider about specific side effects you can expect from your specific chemotherapy medicines. Also, discuss with your provider any side effects that are troubling or are difficult to manage.

How Will Chemotherapy Affect My Reproductive Life?

Breast cancer and chemotherapy will undoubtedly cause many changes in your life. One change you may experience from chemotherapy is alterations in your menstrual cycles -- from irregular periods to the signs and symptoms of menopause, the period at which a woman stops menstruating permanently. 

Experts don't fully understand all of chemotherapy's effects on the female reproductive system.

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