Breast cancer chemotherapy

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The decision to recommend breast cancer chemotherapy as well as the choice the therapy regimens depend on the characteristics of the individual patient, personal experience of the oncologist and the logistics of the medical centre. The table below lists the most commonly used breast cancer chemotherapy regimen in the world including  full description of the drugs, how they are given, what to expect and side effects.


Adriamycin & cyclo

Classical CMF









FEC-Taxotere AC-Taxol


Epirubicin MMM


Vinorelbine Carbo-Gem   Herceptin
Caelyx Cisplatin - Gem Lapatinib Cap

There are three main techniques of breast cancer chemotherapy which are given to patients-

1. ADJUVANT In this situation the treatment  is given to patients after their surgery as an added insurance policy to reduce the chance of their tumour returning in another part of the body  in the future.  The magnitude of benefit depends on a number of specific features for each  individual and this will be discussed with you at depth by your oncologist (see management). This may range from as low as 2% up to over 50%. This does mean that  many women will have no benefit from this therapy either because they are cured anyway or the tumour will return despite the treatment. 

NEOADJUVANT will also have the same benefits as adjuvant  mentioned above. This is usually reserved for situations were the surgeon does not feel the tumour could be safely removed at operation with lumpectomy and has recommended mastectomy.  In other situations the tumour is fairly extensive (locally advanced) and it requires shrinkage in order to allow the surgeon to perform mastectomy. 

3. PALLIATIVE The aim is not to cure, but to control or shrink the tumour especially if it is causing a specific symptom. The aims are to improve the quality of life; therefore the side effects from the treatments should not outweigh the benefits of shrinking the tumour.

In these latter two categories, your oncologist would require a full re-assessment of your disease after two or three cycles, to check whether these strategies are working effectively. If not, the regime could be stopped or changed.

Further information The book Lifestyle After Cancer summarises the lifestyle evidence from around the world and provides practical advice for all stages in the cancer journey. Cancerbackup has a help line (0808 800 1234) and a detailed video available in English, Italian, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati & Hindi explaining Radiotherapy & Chemotherapy. is a comprehensive cancer information resource written by an experienced team of doctors, health professionals and patients. It contains links and information on:  Specific cancers Breast | Prostate | Bowel.   Cancer treatmentsChemotherapy | Radiotherapy | Hormones | Biological agents | Complementary therapies .  Lifestyle and cancerExercise | Diet | Smoking | Sunbathing | Alcohol. Tips to help with the symptoms and side effects. Financial issues: Traveling | Travel insurance| Links to support groups | Books | Tests for cancer | Clinical trials | What is cancer | How to avoid cancer | Glossary | About us | Disclaimer