Doctors use certain medications to help prevent breast cancer or, in combination with other therapies, to fight it and treat it. The kinds of drugs you’ll take depend on what stage your cancer has reached, whether it responds to hormones like estrogen, whether you’re resistant to any medications or treatments, and how well you tolerate the ones prescribed. Chemotherapy is the traditional standard, but several newer drug treatments may also be helpful.
Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses drugs to combat cancer by killing all fast-growing cells, not only cancer cells but also those in your hair follicles and immune system. A combination of more than one drug is usually more effective than any single one. Your overall health is also important in determining what type of chemotherapy is best for you. The medications may be taken in pill form or through an IV (a tube inserted into a vein). An IV treatment, which lasts about two hours, often includes anti-nausea medications along with the chemo drugs. The treatment is painless, and you can usually relax in a reclining chair and read or chat while receiving it.
A typical course of chemotherapy might involve treatments every two to three weeks (to allow time for recovery in between) for three to six months, depending on the stage of your cancer and the other treatments you’re receiving. Advanced breast cancer treatment may last longer. Chemo may also be used before surgery. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy and is used to shrink a large tumor that otherwise cannot be removed completely by surgery. It’s also used to shrink large tumors so they can be removed by lumpectomy rather than mastectomy.
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