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Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

Chemotherapy plays a role in most breast cancer treatment plans. Breast cancer specialists rely on chemotherapy to shrink breast tumors and prevent breast cancer from spreading. We also use it to kill breast cancer found in other areas of the body. At the Abramson Cancer Center, our specialized breast cancer oncologists know the best way to include chemotherapy as part of your personalized treatment plan.

What Is Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer?

Chemotherapy uses drugs and other agents to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy for breast cancer is typically delivered intravenously (through a vein) either as an injection or as an infusion given over a longer period of time. The medication is systemic, meaning it travels through the bloodstream to every area of the body.

Depending of the type and stage of cancer, chemotherapy may be used alone or combined with other breast cancer treatments. Chemotherapy may reduce the risk of early stage breast cancer coming back. It also helps to shrink or destroy advanced breast cancer in 30 to 60 percent of patients. As a systemic treatment, chemotherapy is especially useful when treating widespread or metastatic cancer that has moved beyond the breast.

Breast Cancer Chemotherapy: Why Choose the Abramson Cancer Center?

Our multidisciplinary breast cancer team understands how and when to incorporate chemotherapy into your overall treatment plan. At the Abramson Cancer Center, you’ll find:

  • Specialized oncologists: Our medical oncologists work only with breast cancer patients. They expertly determine which drug or combination of drugs will be most effective for you.
  • Latest chemotherapy drugs: We use the newest chemotherapy agents to treat breast cancer more effectively. Our clinical trials give you access to promising treatments you won’t find elsewhere.
  • Skilled infusion nurses: All infusions are given by trained and certified chemotherapy nurses. We walk you through every aspect of chemotherapy treatment. Our triage nurses and expert pharmacists review your lab results and infusion orders at every session to make sure you safely receive the right treatment.
  • Large infusion suites: We administer infusions in suites that are spacious, updated and comfortable for you and a caregiver. Select locations offer private, family-friendly chemotherapy suites.
  • Support during treatment: Our breast cancer support services help alleviate any side effects of chemotherapy treatment. To help you feel confident and comfortable, cancer center boutiques located at two Penn Medicine hospitals offer services and products (such as wigs, specialty bras and head coverings) designed for breast cancer patients.

How We Use Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

We use chemotherapy in different ways and at different times when treating breast cancer. We often use chemotherapy drugs in combination, using two or three agents at one time. For HER+ breast cancer, we may combine a chemo medication with a targeted therapy drug. Depending on the breast cancer type and stage, we may recommend:

Adjuvant Therapy (After Surgery)

Chemotherapy is given after breast cancer surgery to destroy any remaining breast cancer cells that cannot be seen. Adjuvant therapy reduces the chances of breast cancer coming back (recurring).

Adjuvant therapy is typically used for early stage invasive cancer. It may be recommended for any stage or type of cancer if there is a concern of recurrence.

Neoadjuvant Therapy (Before Surgery)

Some breast tumors are too large or complex to treat with surgery immediately after diagnosis. We treat advanced breast cancer with chemotherapy before surgery to shrink the tumor. Patients receiving neoadjuvant therapy may need chemo again after surgery if cancer cells are still present.

Chemotherapy for Metastatic Breast Cancer

If breast cancer is found in distant parts of the body (metastatic cancer), we often treat it with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy medications travel through the bloodstream to destroy cancer cells wherever they are. If cancer returns, we may use different chemotherapy drugs as a second-line treatment.

To track the effectiveness of chemotherapy for metastatic cancer, we rely on imaging, such as bone scans, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and PET/CT (positron emission tomography/computed tomography).