Chemotherapy helps to shrink breast tumors and keep cancer from spreading. We also use it to destroy cancer found in other areas of the body. At Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, our specialized oncologists understand how chemotherapy works as part of your personalized treatment plan. We offer compassionate, supportive care to keep you comfortable during chemotherapy treatment.
What Is Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer?
Chemotherapy (chemo) uses drugs and other agents to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. We administer it either as an intravenous infusion (through a vein) or as an injection. The medication is systemic, meaning it travels through the bloodstream to every area of the body.
In early-stage cancer, chemotherapy may reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence (coming back). It also helps to shrink or destroy advanced breast cancer in 30 to 60 percent of patients. As a systemic treatment, chemotherapy is especially useful when treating metastatic cancer that has moved beyond the breast.
Breast Cancer Chemotherapy: The Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health Advantage
We offer chemotherapy as part of our comprehensive breast cancer care. The benefits of receiving care at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health include:
- Personalized expertise: We perform Oncotype testing to understand whether your breast cancer is likely to recur (come back). This information allows your medical oncologist to tailor your breast cancer treatment.
- Specialized infusion nurses: The nurses administering your chemo specialize in both oncology and chemotherapy. They collaborate with your medical oncologists to adjust your treatment as needed.
- Access to innovative treatments: We offer opportunities to participate in clinical trials whenever appropriate. You’ll have access to new and promising treatments through trials offered in Lancaster and at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia. Learn more about breast cancer research and clinical trials at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health.
- Close monitoring: Some chemotherapy medications can cause temporary heart problems. We work closely with cardiologists to monitor your heart.
- Wide-ranging support: We offer all types of support services for our breast cancer patients. Before chemotherapy, we provide fertility counseling for women of child-bearing age and assist you with insurance paperwork and financial concerns. After treatment, we help ease the side effects of chemo to help you feel more like yourself.
- Comfortable setting, close to home: Our infusion center in the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute in Lancaster features a large, bright setting for your chemotherapy treatment.
How We Use Chemo for Breast Cancer
At Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, we use chemotherapy at different times and in different ways depending on your breast cancer type and stage of cancer. We often use chemotherapy drugs in combination, using two or three agents at one time. Or we may combine chemotherapy with a targeted therapy or immunotherapy drug. Your chemotherapy treatment may include:
Adjuvant Therapy (After Surgery)
We may recommend chemotherapy after breast cancer surgery to destroy any breast cancer cells that remain. Adjuvant therapy reduces the chances of breast cancer recurrence. Adjuvant therapy is typically used for early-stage, invasive cancer. We may recommend it for other stages or types of cancer if recurrence is a concern.
Neoadjuvant Therapy (Before Surgery)
Some diagnosed breast cancers are too large or complex for immediate surgery. When that is the case, we often recommend chemotherapy to shrink the tumor before surgery. Patients receiving neoadjuvant therapy may need chemo again after surgery if cancer cells are still present.
Chemotherapy for Metastatic Breast Cancer
If breast cancer spreads outside of the breast to other parts of the body (metastatic cancer), we often treat it with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy medications travel through the bloodstream to destroy cancer cells wherever they are. If cancer returns, we may use different chemotherapy drugs as a second-line treatment.
Chemotherapy for metastatic breast cancer is often administered as an oral pill. Our nurses closely monitor metastatic patients taking chemotherapy medications. We call to check in, help you take your medications properly and identify side effects to get you relief as soon as possible.
Managing the Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Side effects from chemotherapy are different for everyone. After chemotherapy treatment, you may notice:
- Cognitive difficulties and memory loss
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Hair loss
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Neuropathy (problems with hands and feet)
- Weight changes
We take steps to keep you comfortable both during infusions and afterward. Our infusion nurses help with hydration and take other steps to prevent side effects such as numbness and tingling. Your medical oncologist can prescribe medication to help with nausea and guide you in symptom management at home.
Our Image Recovery Center, conveniently located in the Cancer Institute, offers holistic services like massage and acupuncture to help with symptom management. The salon has products and treatments to make you feel better about your appearance during and after chemotherapy.
Request an Appointment for Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer
To make an appointment at the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute, call 717-544-9400 or request a callback using our online form.