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What is chemotherapy?
Treatments can be given at home, at the doctor’s
Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer drugs
office or in the hospital — depending on the type
to treat cancer. It can be used to treat cancer by
stopping the growth of cancer and by killing cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the
When is it given?
body. Chemotherapy is given after surgery (called
Chemotherapy usually starts within 4 to 12 weeks
) or before surgery (known
after surgery. Today it is commonly given on a
as neoadjuvant chemotherapy
) to reduce the risk of
21-day or 28-day cycle. Drugs are generally given
weekly or once every third week, with a rest period to allow your body to regain strength. Some
How is it given?
studies are looking at a shorter schedule — giving
There are many different chemotherapy drugs used
chemotherapy more often along with drugs to
today. Some drugs work better in combination than
control side effects. This may prove to be beneficial
alone, so your doctor may give you more than one
for some women.The length of the cycle will depend
to take. A few anti-cancer drugs are taken by
on the type of drugs used. The length of the treatment
mouth or injected into the muscle or fat tissue
period will vary, but it typically lasts from 3 to 6
below the skin, but most are injected into a vein.
Each chemotherapy drug belongs to a class of drugs. Each class has a different effect on cancer cells. That is why different anti-cancer drugs are often used in combination with each other. The major drug classes are described below.
paclitaxel (Taxol), docetaxel (Taxotere), vincristine (Oncovin), vinblastine (Velban), vinorelbine (Navelbine)
cancer cells and stopping cellreproduction
Many women are afraid of having chemotherapy because of its side effects and the toll it can take on the body. Although chemotherapy does have a dramatic effect on the body, it is often a successful treatment. It reduces the risk of cancer returning after surgery. Doctors know more about chemotherapy than ever before. The doses are more accurate and there are a variety of medications to help minimize side effects.
Expect some changes in your life during chemotherapy. Your daily routine will be affected. You may be able to keep working and doing your normal activities. Or you may be too tired to do all the things you normally do. That’s okay. Your co-survivors (friends and family) can help. You will start to feel better once the treatment is over. Until then, your doctor and nurses can give you suggestions on how to manage your daily activities.
Chemotherapy and You: A Guide to Self-Help
During Cancer Treatment. National Cancer Institute.
The Breast Cancer Survivor Manual
, 3rd ed. by John
Related fact sheets in this series:• Chemotherapy — Coping With Side Effects• Making Treatment Decisions• Getting the Support You Need• New Drugs for Breast Cancer Treatment• Clinical Trials
& about . National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) National Institutes of Health Public Health Service • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services For Your Information This publication contains information about medicationsused to treat the health condition discussed here. Whenthis booklet was printed, we included the most up-to-date(acc
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