When we hear the word chemotherapy, thoughts of hair loss, nausea, dizziness and repetitive uncomfortable oncology ward visits haunt us. We associate chemotherapy with all the negative things a cancer patient goes through. But do we ever stop to reconsider the hatred? We need to realize that it is the disease that needs to be hated for putting a patient through it all; not the treatment.
Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy are nothing but a way to help us get back to a normal, healthy life. Of course, defeating cancer is a battle that needs to be fought hard and on the way, it is most likely that you will have to endure many scars. Staying strong and believing that treatment is important forms the basis of regaining strength and recovering.
According to Center of Disease Control, “Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses one or more anti-cancer drugs as part of a standardized chemotherapy regimen. Chemotherapy may be given with curative intent, or it may aim to prolong life or to reduce symptoms.”
In the case of breast cancer, chemotherapy utilizes specific cytotoxic drugs that target and destroy cancer cells in the breast area. These drugs are usually given to the patient directly into a vein, via a needle or as a pill. Usually, chemotherapy for breast cancer is used alongside other treatments such as surgery, radiation or hormone therapy. Chemotherapy for breast cancer holds many advantages such as: increasing the chance of cure, decreasing the risk of cancer returning and helping people with cancer live longer with a better quality of life.
Let’s have a look at what kinds of chemotherapies are available for treating breast cancer, why are they used and why must we acknowledge it:
Early Breast Cancer Chemotherapy
Early stage breast cancer needs Adjuvant chemotherapy. This type of chemotherapy is when a doctor recommends specific drugs to destroy any undetected cancer cells in order to prevent cancer from returning. (This is after you’ve had surgery to remove a tumor from the breast.)
The doctor may suggest adjuvant chemotherapy if there is a high risk of cancer spreading to other parts of the body or returning. When considering adjuvant chemotherapy it’s a good idea to ask your doctor how reduced will be your chances of cancer recurrence.
Chemotherapy Before Surgery for Early Breast Cancer
Sometimes doctors may suggest chemotherapy before surgery in order to shrink large tumors. This is known as neoadjuvant therapy. Advantages of this include:
Giving the surgeon the best chance to remove the tumour completely
Allowing the surgeon to remove the tumour ONLY, rather than the entire breast
Decreasing the chance of the cancer returning
Chemotherapy as a Primary Treatment for Advanced Breast Cancer
Chemotherapy can be used as the primary treatment first because of its success rate. In cases where surgery is no longer an option and if the breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body, then too, chemo is suggested to be the primary treatment option.
The main purpose of chemotherapy for advanced breast cancer is to give the patient a longer life and help improve the quality of life rather than curing the disease.
It is also important to know that chemotherapy can help control breast cancer if it has recurred or spread along. To be able to acknowledge the importance of chemotherapy, it is first important to understand the benefits.
Benefits of Chemotherapy
There are several benefits for patients undergoing chemotherapy as a cancer treatment. Some of these include:
Reduced chances of the tumour being resistant to the cytotoxic drugs being used; hence guaranteed destruction of cancer cells.
Therapy can start as early as the cancer gets diagnosed.
Cancer is a complex disease involving many steps. Chemotherapy helps address several target molecules of different stages at the same time.
Customized dosage can help patients to benefit from just the right amount of therapy needed to kill cancer cells.
Breast cancers usually have “Tumor Heterogeneity” (meaning different characteristics). All heterogeneous cancer cells can be targeted at once with combination drug usage in chemotherapy.
Promising success rates of chemotherapy make it one of the most commonly opted for treatments for cancer.
Know that chemotherapy works differently for different people. The success rate of chemotherapy varies widely. Factors that commonly require chemotherapy include:
Tumour size and grade. Your doctor is likely to recommend chemotherapy if you have a larger tumour and higher grade. This is because there is an increased risk of stray cancer cells, and surgery might just help in relocating them.
Lymph nodes. If the cancer cells have made their way to the lymph nodes, the risk of recurrence becomes higher. As a result, your doctor is more prone to recommend chemotherapy.
Age. There are studies that suggest that younger people are diagnosed with more aggressive breast cancer compared to those who develop cancer later on in life. Consequently, a doctor may be more likely to use adjuvant chemotherapy to minimize the chances of the cancer returning.
REMEMBER: You are not alone!
If you’re going through chemotherapy or considering it as a treatment option then remember, many people have been where you are today. They also had the same fears. Many of those went through it, recovered, and are now are living their lives.
It may be helpful to talk to other patients or join support groups to help ease your fears and make a better judgment as to what suits you best.
Here’s a tip: Relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing may help reduce stress. Eating well and exercising too has been shown to help improve sleep and lessen fatigue caused by chemotherapy.
Finally, if you are recommended to get chemotherapy done, don’t freak out. Cancer treatment is frightening but you’re stronger than you know. Get your facts straight and kickstart your journey of defeating cancer today!