Chemotherapy is a treatment that is given to the whole of your body, usually as an injection. The chemotherapy drugs act against cells which are growing rapidly, which cancer cells tend to be. Chemotherapy acts on the whole body at once and aims to eradicate any tiny cancer cells that may have left the breast area. If chemotherapy is to be given this is commonly after surgery (adjuvant) but it can also be given before surgery (neo-adjuvant).
If chemotherapy is recommended to you as part of your treatment, your Doctor and Breast Care Nurse will explain the reasons why. Common reasons are: if you are young when you develop breast cancer, the breast cancer was large, the breast cancer cells looked more abnormal under the microscope (high grade), you have cancer in the lymph nodes or your breast cancer has not been found to be sensitive to hormones. In addition, if your breast cancer is sensitive to trastuzumab (‘Herceptin’ – see Biological Agents), you are likely to be advised to have chemotherapy alongside the trastuzumab.
A highly skilled team of specialized chemotherapy nurses administers the chemotherapy drugs and are based in the Luton and Dunstable Hospital Macmillan Chemotherapy unit. The treatments are administered in the out-patient setting, meaning you will be able to go home after your treatment.
Usually you will have a treatment and then a break for a few weeks before the next treatment. Commonly six treatments are given spread out over 18 weeks, but your Oncologist and Breast Care Nurse will explain to you the particular plan that is thought best for you. They will also explain what side effects you might experience and what can be done to help with these.