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Chemotherapy

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Chemotherapy is a drug used to kill cancer cells. For breast cancer, this usually involves a combination of drugs, given by infusion. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. Most patients receive chemotherapy in an outpatient part of the hospital, at the doctor's office, or at home.

Chemotherapy is given in cycles, with a typical treatment cycle lasting for about four to six months. Each treatment period is followed by a recovery period. Common drug combinations used to treat breast cancer include ACT (adriamycin, cytoxan and taxotere), or TC (taxotere and cytoxan).

Neoadjuvant therapy is chemotherapy given prior to surgery, usually to shrink the tumor. This is usually offered to women who have large breast cancers that may not be able to be surgically removed. In these cases, chemotherapy may still be required after surgery as well.

Side effects of chemotherapy include fatigue, nausea and vomiting (which is often successfully treated with anti-nausea medications). Lowered white blood cell counts and increased risk of infection, mouth sores, temporary hair loss and a tendency for premenopausal women to go through early menopause may also result.

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