Chemotherapy uses medicines to destroy cancer cells. You may have chemotherapy:
- before your surgery - to shrink the tumour
- after surgery - to reduce the chance of cancer coming back or spreading
- as a treatment for breast cancer that has spread or come back
Some chemotherapy can be taken as a tablet, but most is given as an injection into your vein. You may need one or more different drugs as part of your treatment. You will usually have chemotherapy as a treatment cycle, with a few days taking the drugs and then a few weeks of rest afterwards. You may have a number of treatment cycles over a period of up to eight months.
Hormones, such as oestrogen, can affect the growth of breast cancer cells. Taking medicines that block these hormones can treat some kinds of breast cancer. Hormone therapies are usually used after you have had surgery, though they can be used before surgery or to treat cancer that has come back.
Women usually take hormonal treatments for at least five years following initial treatment for breast cancer. There are several types of hormone therapy. Your doctor will help you to choose the right medicine for you.
Biological therapies (monoclonal antibodies)
Biological therapy is treatment with a substance that stimulates your body to attack or control the growth of cancer cells. Antibodies are proteins produced by your immune system that usually fight against bacteria and viruses. Monoclonal antibodies are made in a laboratory and are designed to seek out particular cells.
The most commonly used biological therapy is called trastuzumab (Herceptin). It works by targeting breast cancer cells that have a particular protein on their surface.
Trastuzumab is given into your vein via a drip. You will need to have it every three weeks for a year.
Not all women respond to treatment with biological therapies.
After your treatment
After your treatment has finished, your doctor will ask you to have regular check-ups. He or she will ask if you have any symptoms and may also arrange for you to have blood tests and mammograms. This is to check for signs of the cancer coming back.
If you're well, you will need fewer check-ups as time goes on. If you have any symptoms in between your appointments or are worried at all, speak to your doctor.