Chemotherapy is a standard medicinal approach to treating various types of cancer(s). This approach takes powerful chemicals to kill the multiplying cancer cells within your body. Because chemotherapy medicines affect the body in its entirety and targets the healthy cells in your body too, it is used to treat advanced stage breast cancers. Note that chemotherapy can sometimes be used to treat an overactive immune system; disorders such as Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. It is said that chemotherapy has been around since the time of Ancient Greeks, however it became useful in treating cancer in the 1940’s ( Side effects to this type of treatment depends on the chemotherapy cocktail and how your body responds to it. Your chemotherapy cocktail will likely differ from the patient next to you. Your cocktail is determined by several factors to include your age, grade of tumor and estrogen status.

When can chemotherapy help me?

  • Control / slow down growth of tumor(s)
  • Shrink the size of tumor(s) in preparation for cancer related surgery
  • Relieve symptoms related to the tumor, such as pain

When can chemotherapy be administered to me?

  • Pre surgery to shrink larger tumor(s). This is also known as neoadjuvant therapy.

  • Post surgery to destroy any microscopic cancer cells that remain after surgery.

  • When cancer has spread to other body parts (metastasized) and surgery is not an option.

How is chemotherapy administered to me?

  • Intravenous (IV) that goes into your veins in hand or arm
  • A [catheter] port (“port a cath”) that is surgically placed into your chest prior to
  • Orally. 


**note that you are subject to experiencing only a couple, to a few, to possibly all of these

  • It treats your cancer(s)

  • Can increase life expectancy

  • Shrink tumor enough to have it removed

  • May reduce chances of the cancer returning


Short-term Cons

**note that you are subject to experiencing only a couple, to a few, to possibly all of these

  • Negative impact to nerve endings in hands and feed (neuropathy)
  • Heat and cold sensitivities

  • “Chemo Brain” also known as “chemo fog” (issues with cognitive function, memory and concentration)

  • Hair loss

  • Fatigue

  • Changes in appetite (loss of appetite for some not all)

  • Constipation or Diarrhea

  • Mouth sores

  • Skin and Nail changes (ex: nails may darken. For people of color, skin may darken)

  • Increased risk of developing infections due to compromised immune system

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Weight gain

  • Mental health changes; feelings of fear, anger, sadness, mood swings


Long-term Cons

**note that you are subject to experiencing none, only a couple, a few, to possibly all of these

  • Infertility (some cancer drugs damage the ovaries leading to menopause where pregnancy is not an option)
  • Osteopenia and osteoporosis (bone thinning conditions)

  • Heart damage
    Secondary cancer / Leukemia (can be triggered several years after chemotherapy)

  • Lung damage

  • Hearing loss

  • Mental health changes; chronic feelings of fear, anger, sadness, mood swings


  • Size and grade of tumor

  • Lymph node status

  • Your genetic profile (Oncotype, mammaprint, prosigna tests)

  • Your age

  • If you have had any previous treatments

  • Your overall medical health status

  • Hormonal status of the breast cancer (Er+ / Er- / Pr+ / PR-)

  • Her2 status of the breast cancer (her2+ / her2-)

  • Your own personal preferences (what you want for your health and future matters too!)

How long do I need to receive chemotherapy?

Length: Generally chemotherapy treatment is given in cycles and the total length of these cycles is determined by a variety of factors; the type of cancer, the extent of cancer, the types of drugs that are given, as well as the expected toxicities of the drugs and the amount of time necessary to recover from these toxicities. 

Frequency: chemotherapy may repeat weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.

What if chemotherapy does not work for me?

If your chemotherapy regimen does not improve your cancer status, your doctor will sit down with you to consider other options. Other options may include a new chemotherapy cocktail, further surgery, radiation or hormonal therapies,