Chemotherapy for Metastatic Breast Cancer
For people with metastatic breast cancer, chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells that have spread from the breast to other parts of the body.
Chemotherapy can reduce metastatic breast cancer-related symptoms and increase survival.
Chemotherapy and metastatic breast cancer treatment
Chemotherapy is the preferred treatment for metastatic breast cancers that are:
- Hormone receptor-negative
- Hormone receptor-positive, but no longer respond to hormone therapy
- HER2-positive (in combination with HER2-targeted therapy)
You’ll be monitored (checked) every few months to see if the cancer is responding to treatment and if the side effects are manageable.
If the first chemotherapy drug (or combination of drugs) stops working and the cancer begins to grow again, a second or third drug can be used.
The use of each chemotherapy drug (or combination of drugs) for metastatic breast cancer is called a “line” of treatment. For example, the first chemotherapy used is called the “first-line” treatment and the second is called the “second-line” treatment.
With each line of treatment, it becomes less likely the cancer will shrink. And, if the cancer does shrink, it’s often controlled for a shorter period of time with each new drug.
It’s common to get multiple lines of chemotherapy regimens (often 4 or more) over the course of treatment for metastatic breast cancer.
Learn more about how metastatic breast cancer is monitored.
Learn more about chemotherapy.
Learn more about treatment for metastatic breast cancer.
Chemotherapy drugs commonly used to treat metastatic breast cancer
This table lists the most common chemotherapy drugs (used alone or in combination) to treat metastatic breast cancer. This list isn’t exhaustive and doesn’t include drugs rarely used or no longer in use.
Chemotherapy drugs for metastatic breast cancer*
Pill or IV drug (given by vein through an IV)
Pill or IV drug
5-Fluorouracil (5FU or F)
Pill or IV drug
Paclitaxel, albumin bound (nab-paclitaxel)
To learn more about a specific chemotherapy drug, visit the National Institutes of Health’s Medline Plus website.
Side effects of chemotherapy
Chemotherapy has many common side effects, but they vary from drug to drug.
Most side effects occur while undergoing chemotherapy.
Learn about easing worries over side effects of chemotherapy.
Learn about short-term side effects of chemotherapy.
Learn about long-term side effects of chemotherapy.
Clinical trials offer the chance to try new treatments and possibly benefit from them.
Consider joining a clinical trial when your oncologist is considering changing treatments, before starting a new treatment or when there are limited treatment options.
Susan G. Komen® Breast Care Helpline
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Metastatic Trial Search
The Metastatic Trial Search is a web-based clinical trial matching tool that can help you find clinical trials that fit your needs.
Learn more about clinical trials for people with metastatic breast cancer.
Prescription drug assistance
The cost of drug therapies for metastatic breast cancer can quickly become a financial burden for you and your family.
Medicare and many insurance companies offer prescription drug plans. One may already be included in your policy, or you may be able to buy an extra plan for prescriptions.
Some drugs are off-patent and may have a generic form. Generic drugs cost less than the name brands but are just as effective.
You may also qualify for programs that help with drug costs or offer low-cost or free prescriptions.
Learn more about other financial assistance programs.
Komen Financial Assistance Program
Susan G. Komen® created the Komen Financial Assistance Program to help those struggling with the costs of breast cancer treatment by providing financial assistance to eligible individuals.
Funding is available for eligible individuals undergoing breast cancer treatment at any stage or living with metastatic breast cancer (stage IV).
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Susan G. Komen®‘s position on fairness in oral cancer drug coverage
Insurance coverage of oral cancer drugs
Cancer medications given by vein (through an IV) or injection (under the skin or into a muscle) are usually covered under a health insurance plan’s medical benefit. However, cancer medications that are pills (oral cancer drugs) are usually covered under a health insurance plan’s prescription drug benefit.
As a result, people often find themselves facing high out-of-pocket costs when filling prescriptions for oral cancer drugs. Sometimes these costs can be thousands of dollars a month.
The impact of high cost-sharing
High prescription drug costs and the resulting out-of-pocket burden on patients are a barrier to care. They can prevent people from getting the medications prescribed by their health care providers.
No one should be forced to get less appropriate treatment because an insurer gives more coverage for IV and injectable drugs than pills.
Efforts to increase fairness in drug coverage
Komen supports state and federal efforts to require insurers to provide the same or better coverage for oral cancer drugs as they do for IV and injectable cancer drugs. This would help make sure patients have access to affordable, appropriate treatment.
Become a Komen Advocacy Insider
Sign up to be a Komen Advocacy Insider and get informed when action is needed on drug coverage issues at the state or national level.
SUSAN G. KOMEN® SUPPORT RESOURCES
Read our perspective on metastatic breast cancer.*
*Please note, the information provided within Komen Perspectives articles is only current as of the date of posting. Therefore, some information may be out of date.
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