Chemotherapy for breast cancer


Chemotherapy is a treatment using drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy for breast cancer may be given:

  • Before surgery or radiotherapy to shrink the cancer. This can mean having less surgery, and you might be able to have just the tumour removed (a lumpectomy) instead of the whole breast (mastectomy). Chemotherapy also reduces the risk of the cancer coming back.
  • After surgery to reduce the risk of it coming back if the lymph nodes under your arm contained breast cancer cells.
  • If you had a large tumour in your breast.
  • If the breast cancer cells were high grade (grade 3).
  • If the cancer cells didn't have hormone receptors and so hormone therapy is not likely to work well.
  • As a treatment on its own for breast cancer that has spread (metastatic breast cancer) or come back (recurrent breast cancer).
  • As the first treatment for inflammatory breast cancer.

The drugs are usually given into a vein as an injection or through an infusion or drip.

What types of drugs are used?

There are different drugs and combinations of drugs, depending on your type of breast cancer and whether it is early stage or has started to spread (locally advanced and metastatic breast cancer).  You can see the chemotherapy drugs usually used for breast cancer in Ireland on the HSE website. 

For more information

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