Chemotherapy for breast cancer is one of the most often prescribed treatments for the disease. Chemotherapy (chemo here is “chemical”) is a treatment consisting of certain drugs administered to kill cells that rapidly divide. It is systemic therapy and affects not only the cancer cells that divide rapidly but also other cells of the body that divide quickly.
When is chemotherapy for breast cancer indicated?
Chemotherapy may be indicated during early stages of breast cancer after the tumor has been excised by surgery. To minimize the chances of the cancer coming back, chemo is used after a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. In some cases it may also be given before surgery is performed; this is done to try and reduce the size of the tumor.
Chemotherapy may be indicated in cases of advanced breast cancer as well, in the attempt to try and kill off as many malignant cells as possible. The attempt is made to stop the cells from dividing or destroying the existing cancer cells.
How does chemotherapy for breast cancer work?
The cells of a malignant tumor are those that divide very rapidly and in a disorderly and uncontrolled manner. The chemotherapy drugs target these rapidly dividing cells and destroy them. If the cancer has spread to locations other than the breast, the therapy will also target those sites.
The side effects of chemo can be quite severe in a lot of cases. The reason why chemotherapy can have side effects is fact that the drugs work not only on the cancer cells but also other healthy cells of the body that divide rapidly. These include cells of the hair, nails, the bone marrow, the mouth, the digestive tract and so on. This is the reason that the side effects of chemotherapy for breast cancer are what they are.
Depending upon the individual case, chemotherapy is often given in combination of more than one drug. Since each cancer may respond differently to the therapy, it may be modified or changed to get the best results.
Side effects of chemotherapy
The side effects could vary in terms of symptom and severity depending upon the combination of drugs used the dosage and so on. However the generally seen side effects of chemotherapy for breast cancer are:
Alopecia or hair loss is one of the most common side effects since chemo drugs impact the hair follicles and causes hair loss and also impeded growth of hair. The hair loss could be all over the body and could be mere thinning of the hair or even complete baldness.
Weakness or fatigue and feeling generally unwell are often seen with chemo.
Quite typically women also experience nausea and vomiting due to the drugs. There could be digestive disturbances such as diarrhea, loss of appetite and so on. The sense of taste and smell may alter also.
Chemotherapy for breast cancer suppresses the immune system and woman may find they catch infections more frequently. Menopause or infertility could be some of the other side effects experienced.