There are several lines of defense when it comes to treating breast cancer. Chemotherapy is one of them. As defined by BreastCancer.org, chemotherapy is a treatment where medicine is used to weaken and ultimately destroy cancer cells in the body. This not only includes cells at the original cancer site, but any other cells that may have spread throughout the body. Because chemotherapy (called chemo for short) is a systemic therapy, it permeates the bloodstream and affects the whole body.
When and How Much
Cancer cells, which are abnormal, grow and divide at a quick rate. So when cancer is found, your doctor or medical team will start tailoring your chemo treatments to your needs. This is called a chemotherapy regimen which alludes to what types of medications or combination of medications that will be used for each patient case. Also, doctors must strategically decide your dosage and length of time your chemo drugs will be administered. Chemo can be used from stage 0 to stage IV of breast cancer. But since each individual’s health status is different, the medical team involved will more than likely keep the following in mind:
For early-stage breast cancer (stage 0 to some stage III):
Chemotherapy is almost always recommended if there is cancer in the lymph nodes, regardless of tumor size or menopausal status.
Doctors recommend more aggressive treatments for premenopausal women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Breast cancer in premenopausal women tends to be more aggressive, so chemotherapy is often part of the treatment plan.
Chemotherapy may be recommended for some women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer if the cancer is hormone-receptor-negative and HER2-positive. Both of these characteristics are associated with cancer that is more aggressive.
The Oncotype DX test may help some women diagnosed with estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer and their doctors decide if the cancer is likely to come back and if chemotherapy would offer benefits.
Chemotherapy usually is NOT recommended for non-invasive, in situ cancers such as DCIS because they have very little risk of spreading to other parts of the body.