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Breast Cancer Treatment With Chemotherapy

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Receiving Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

For breast cancer, chemotherapy is given either by mouth or injected into a vein daily, weekly, or every 2-4 weeks. Your treatment plan is designed for your particular condition. It may vary greatly from someone else you know who had chemotherapy. For example, while some women stay in the hospital overnight to receive chemotherapy intravenously, others receive chemotherapy for an hour once a day for a week in their doctor's office. Some patients receive chemotherapy in pill form.

Sometimes, if a person's veins are hard to find, it can help to place something called a "port-a-cath" or a “pas-port” (completely covered with skin and requires no care) or a "Hickman" catheter (hangs outside the chest and must be cleaned and flushed) in a large vein. These devices are inserted by a surgeon or radiologist and have an opening to the skin, allowing chemotherapy medications to be given. They can also be used to administer fluids or take blood samples. The catheters are placed on an outpatient basis using local anesthesia. Once chemotherapy is finished, they can be easily removed.

Adjuvant chemotherapy usually begins after recovery from surgery and before radiation treatment and lasts 3-6 months. You will be checked regularly to see how your body is tolerating the treatment. When the treatment is done adjunctly (meaning after surgery, but before any signs of recurrent cancer), there is no way to know for sure if the treatment is working. When chemotherapy is used for metastatic disease (tumor spread), scans may be done to see what effect the treatment is having on the cancer.

During chemotherapy treatment, you will have regular blood tests. Doctors check to see if you have enough white blood cells (infection-fighting cells), red blood cells (which carry oxygen to the cells in your body), and platelets (which help your blood clot). If your red or white cell counts are low, injections can be given to speed recovery. If platelets are low, then a blood transfusion may be necessary. Chemotherapy may be postponed until white blood cells or platelet counts rise towards the normal range.

Unlike other types of cancer, breast cancer treatment with high-dose chemotherapy and bone marrow or stem cell transplants has not been shown to improve survival.

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