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Chemotherapy is the name of a group of anti cancer drugs used to kill cancer cells.

It is sometimes used as part of the treatment for breast cancer. Some patients require chemotherapy prior to surgery if the tumour is significantly large in order to allow lumpectomy and keep the breast or render an inoperable tumour operable. Not all patients will require chemotherapy. This will depend on several factors related to the individual's breast cancer. Chemotherapy is offered to patients where they are likely to benefit from the treatment. This will be discussed with an medical oncologist who who will discuss the benefits of the treatment. The type of chemotherapy which will be offered is based on the current research which has shown a benefit for a particular group of patients. In addition to conventional parameters such as the tumour size, grade and nodal status, we utilize genetic tools which define the biological signature of the cancer in order to establish the magnitude of chemotherapy benefits and provide personalised breast cancer care and avoid overtreatment. The OncoType DX and EndoPredict are examples of such biological tools.

There are several different types of chemotherapy drug combinations which are used to treat breast cancer. Common chemotherapy drugs used againt breast cancer include Anthracyclines, Cyclophosphamide and Taxanes.  Carboplatin has been recently introduced against BRCA related breast cancer. They are normally given into the vein via a drip. Chemotherapy is usually given in the outpatient setting. The treatment usually lasts 4-6 hours and is given in cycles of 1 - 3 weeks. This is followed by a rest period of until the next cycle starts. Other drugs are usually given in order to prevent allergy and nausea during treatment.

Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment which affects all the cells in the body. Healthy cells as well as cancer cells are affected and this can cause side effects. These can include nausea, fatigue and hair loss. Certain chemotherapy protocols are less likely to cause hair loss than others e.g. weekly Taxol and CMF. It is important to remember that most side effects from chemotherapy are temporary as healthy cells recover quickly. Side effects are managed very well throughout the treatment process to minimise any discomfort. There will be ample opportunity to discuss any queries with your oncologist and specialist nurse prior to starting any treatment.