Breast Cancer Treatment Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs are used to slow or stop cancer cells from reproducing. These drugs have the ability to shrink tumors significantly, which can help control breast cancer cells and prevent them from spreading. Chemotherapy drugs are either given independently, or in combination with other medications or therapies.

Breast cancer chemotherapy can cause uncomfortable side effects, such as:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Reduced blood cell counts.

Fortunately, there are many ways to deal with these side effects–your oncologist can give you recommendations on how to manage discomforts as a result of chemotherapy treatment.

When is Chemotherapy Used?

Unlike radiation therapy and surgery, which target a specific area of the body to treat, chemotherapy reaches diseased cells throughout the entire body. This effect is particularly important following radiation therapy or surgery in which not all the cancer cells are destroyed. In this case, chemotherapy is known as a secondary treatment, or “adjuvant therapy.”

Chemotherapy drugs are also sometimes used prior to surgery and radiation therapy to reduce tumor size and lessen tumor attachment to healthy tissue. Chemotherapy can be used in palliative care (which aims to treat symptoms rather than cure the disease) to help shrink the tumor and improve quality of life in cases of metastatic breast cancer.

Breast cancer chemotherapy is typically administered in successive treatments, each one followed by a recovery period. Treatment can last three to six months, depending on patient health, drugs used and the extent of the disease.

Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Drugs

Chemotherapy drugs vary in their effectiveness, toxicity and suitability. They are administered in different quantities and for different durations depending on the patient’s condition and the oncologist’s objectives. Typical methods used are intravenous injection and oral administration. Common chemotherapy drugs for breast cancer treatment include:

  • Arimidex® is used in the treatment of advanced disease in postmenopausal women who have failed to respond to other drugs.
  • Cyclophosphamide is a common chemotherapy agent that prevents the spreading of cancer cells.
  • Doxorubicin is an antibiotic used for locally advanced cancer. It is used to treat inflammatory breast cancer, as adjuvant therapy and in palliative care in cases of metastatic breast cancer.
  • Femara® is used in palliative care. Femara® is used to treat postmenopausal patients with advanced cancer.
  • Fluorouracil is a drug that stops cancer cells from dividing by simulating normal cellular metabolites and “clogging” cellular machinery.
  • Herceptin® is used in palliative care for patients with metastatic breast cancer. Herceptin® is a form of immunotherapy in which antibodies target cancer cells.
  • Methotrexate inhibits the growth of cancer cells.
  • Tamoxifen is used in adjuvant chemotherapy to stop or slow the growth of diseased cells. Tamoxifen interferes with estrogen binding and thus stops the hormone from stimulating more cancer cell growth. It is also used in palliative care.
  • Taxol® is used as a follow up to doxorubicin in adjuvant therapy, and in palliative care in cases of metastasis.
  • Taxotere® is used alone or in combination with other treatments in cases of locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer.
  • Xeloda® is used to treat metastatic breast cancer. It enters diseased cells and is metabolized into a cancer-killing drug (5-FU). Xeloda® can be taken as oral tablets.


The American Cancer Society. (2009). Breast cancer facts and figures 2009-2010. Retrieved October 19, 2010, from

BC Breast Cancer Agency. (2010). Chemotherapy protocols for breast cancer treatment. Retrieved October 19, 2010, from

Cleveland Clinic Foundation. (2005). Chemocare: Chemotherapy drugs. Retrieved October 19, 2010, from