Breast Cancer: Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs act by interrupting the growth of cancer cells. In treating breast cancer, doctors often use a combination of two or three drugs at one time. Common chemotherapy drugs for breast cancer include:

Common combinations include:

  • AC (doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide)
  • AC-T (AC followed by paclitaxel)
  • EC (epirubicin, cyclophosphamide)
  • EC-T (EC followed by paclitaxel)
  • CMF (cyclophosphamide, methotrexate, 5-fluorouracil)
  • TC (docetaxel, cyclophosphamide)
  • TCH (docetaxel, carboplatin, trastuzumab)

For more information, read the brochure Adjuvant Therapy for Breast Cancer.

Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Side effects of chemotherapy vary depending on the drug, the dose, the combination, and the schedule in which they are given. In general, these drugs can cause varying degrees of nausea, vomiting, low blood counts, neuropathy (tingling of the fingers and toes), and the weakening of heart muscle. Your healthcare team will review the side effects you may experience from your specific treatment regimen.

Examples of side effects of chemotherapy include:

There are ways to manage some of the side effects of chemotherapy while you receive your treatment. Always inform your doctor or nurse of any side effects that are bothersome or different from what you have experienced in the past.

Supportive Medications

People receiving chemotherapy treatments are often prescribed other medications to support the body as it responds to the chemotherapy and cancer cells are killed. Many different kinds of drugs can be given to prevent or help minimize specific side effects. If a chemotherapy drug is known to cause nausea and vomiting, for example, antinausea drugs called antiemetics may be given. Patients may receive agents called colony-stimulating factors to increase the production of certain blood cells; for example, granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) can stimulate the body to produce infection-fighting white blood cells.

Examples of supportive medications include: