Chemotherapy is a chemical, or group of chemicals, designed to stop the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs may be given intravenously, orally, or as a combination of the two. There are many chemotherapy drugs used to treat breast cancer.
When breast cancer is limited to the breast or lymph nodes, chemotherapy may be given after a lumpectomy or mastectomy. This is done to help reduce the chance of breast cancer coming back.
Elyse Caplan remembers it well, that first conversation with her oncologist.
She had just been diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer, and they were
discussing the game plan for treatment. If her oncologist mentioned
"recurrence" -- the possibility that her cancer could return -- it was
lost on her, she says.
"You sit through an hour-long appointment and take notes, but when the
doctor says one thing that's very upsetting, you just freeze," she tells
WebMD. "You're thinking, 'I'm going to...
If the breast tumor is large, chemotherapy is sometimes given before surgery in order to shrink the tumor so it can be removed more easily or so that a lumpectomy can be performed instead of a mastectomy.
Chemotherapy may also be given as the main treatment for women whose cancer has spread to other parts of the body outside of the breast and lymph nodes.