Finding your way through chemo


Chemotherapy drugs are usually given by mouth (orally) or injection (intravenously) with the aim of travelling through the bloodstream to reach more distant parts of the body.  Chemotherapy drugs kill cells that are rapidly dividing and making copies of themselves.

Treatment is given in cycles with each cycle being followed by a recovery period.

Chemotherapy is normally given as an outpatient so you will be able to go home the same day.

These are some of the terms that you may hear as you start your chaemotherapy treatment.


  1. Adjuvant Curative Chemotherapy= Treatment after surgery.

In an invasive breast cancer, it is possible that microscopic cells may have broken away from the main tumour and spread through the bloodstream to settle in other places eg. Lymph nodes, bone, liver and lungs.  (This may have happened in the early stages of the disease before the time of surgery and these cells will be so small that they cannot be seen on any scans.  They are also not detectable on a blood test.)

These may start growing and cause problems sometimes many years after initial treatment.  The aims of adjuvant treatment (chemotherapy, endocrine therapy,        biological therapies, targeted therapies) is to kill these hidden cells and reduce the risk of future spread or recurrence.

But not every patient needs chemotherapy.

  1. Neo-adjuvant (Curative) Chemotherapy: Treatment before surgery.

The main benefit of this is to shrink large cancers so that they are small enough to             be removed. It may also allow some woman the opportunity of have breast conserving surgery rather than a mastectomy. It also allows doctors to monitor how the cancer responds to chemotherapy.

It is being increasingly advised for patients with high grade breast cancer types     where there is evidence or high risk of cells already have broken off and spread, as        it has the advantage of  possibly “catching” these cells earlier rather than waiting for   surgery and post surgical recovery.

  1. For advanced metastatic cancer (Palliative):

Chemotherapy can also be used as treatment for cancer that has already spread outside the breast and armpit at the time it is found, or if it spreads after the first treatments. At this stage, the cancer is not curable. However, it may be manageable or treatable and further spread of the cancer can be controlled. Some patients can live a relatively good quality of life for many years with metastatic cancer.

Blog written by Ronelle Lovric



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