Chemotherapy drugs kill or disable cancer cells.
Chemotherapy is a treatment option for most types of breast cancer.
It’s normal to worry about possible side effects of chemotherapy, but many can be managed. Your health care provider may be able to treat or prevent many side effects or change your treatment plan to reduce them.
Chemotherapy for early and locally advanced breast cancer
After breast surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy)
For people 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 chemotherapy 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, making it easier to surgically remove the cancer.
In some cases, response to neoadjuvant therapy can help guide treatment after breast cancer surgery.
Learn more about neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
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 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 team about which treatment guidelines they use.
Importance of following your breast cancer treatment plan
It’s normal to worry about possible side effects of chemotherapy, but 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.
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.
You’re not alone
If you’re 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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