Chemotherapy drugs kill or disable cancer cells.
Chemotherapy is a treatment option for most types of breast cancer.
Chemotherapy for early and locally advanced breast cancer
After breast surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy)
For those with early breast cancer, chemotherapy is usually given after breast surgery (called adjuvant chemotherapy), but before radiation therapy.
Adjuvant chemotherapy helps lower the risk of breast cancer recurrence by getting rid of cancer cells that might still be in the body. These cells are too small to see on scans or to measure with lab tests.
Learn more about getting chemotherapy.
Before breast surgery (neoadjuvant chemotherapy)
Sometimes, chemotherapy is used before surgery (called neoadjuvant or preoperative chemotherapy).
In women with large tumors who need a mastectomy, neoadjuvant chemotherapy may shrink the tumor enough so a lumpectomy becomes an option.
In women with locally advanced breast cancer, neoadjuvant chemotherapy can reduce the size of the tumor in the breast and/or in the lymph nodes, and make it easier to surgically remove the cancer.
Learn more about neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy for metastatic breast cancer
For those 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 cancer-related symptoms and increase survival.
Learn more about treatment for metastatic breast cancer.
Although the exact treatment for breast cancer varies from person to person, guidelines help ensure high-quality care. These guidelines are based on the latest research and agreement among experts.
In addition, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has treatment overviews.
Talk with your health care providers about which treatment guidelines they use.
Importance of following your breast cancer treatment plan
Breast cancer treatment is most effective when all parts of the treatment plan are followed as prescribed.
Prescription drug assistance
Chemotherapy drug costs 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.
Susan G. Komen®‘s position on fairness in oral cancer drug coverage
Although most chemotherapy is given by vein (through an IV), a few chemotherapy drugs are pills (oral chemotherapy).
Insurance coverage of oral cancer drugs
Insurance policies haven’t kept pace with treatment advances. IV chemotherapy is usually covered under a health insurance plan’s medical benefit, but oral chemotherapy is usually covered under a plan’s prescription drug benefit.
As a result, people often find themselves facing high out-of-pocket costs when filling prescriptions for oral chemotherapy. Sometimes this can cost thousands of dollars a month.
The impact of high drug costs
High prescription drug costs 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 chemotherapy than oral chemotherapy.
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 chemotherapy as they do for IV chemotherapy. This would help ensure patients have access to affordable, appropriate treatment.
Ask your U.S. representative to co-sponsor the Cancer Drug Parity Act.
Susan G. Komen® offers the Komen Treatment Assistance Program to help eligible, underserved breast cancer patients in treatment. To learn more about this program and other helpful resources, call the Komen Breast Care Helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636).
You are not alone
If you are facing chemotherapy, remember, many people have been where you are today. They had the same fears. They’ve gone through breast cancer treatment, recovered and are living their lives.
Sharing experiences and advice with others going through chemotherapy or those who’ve finished treatment may help.
Our Support section offers a list of resources to help find local and online support groups. Your health care provider may also be able to help you find a local support group.
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