Chemotherapy for breast cancer may be given in the following situations:
Chemotherapy after surgery for early breast cancer
After surgical removal of a tumor from a breast, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy to destroy any undetected cancer cells and to reduce your risk of the cancer recurring. This is known as adjuvant chemotherapy.
Your doctor may recommend adjuvant chemotherapy if you have a high risk of the cancer recurring or spreading to other parts of your body (metastasizing), even if there is no evidence of cancer after surgery. You may be at higher risk of metastasis if cancer cells are found in lymph nodes near the breast with the tumor.
It's important to talk to your doctor about how much the chemotherapy will reduce your chance of the cancer coming back, and whether this decrease in risk is worth the side effects of the chemotherapy. Also discuss with your doctor other alternatives, such as hormone-blocking therapy, that might be effective in your situation.
Chemotherapy before surgery for early breast cancer
Some women with breast cancer receive chemotherapy before surgery (neoadjuvant therapy), generally to shrink large tumors and allow the surgeon the best chance of removing the tumor completely. In some cases, neoadjuvant therapy allows the surgeon to remove only the tumor, rather than the entire breast. This can also decrease the chance the cancer will return at a later date.
Chemotherapy as the primary treatment for advanced breast cancer
If breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body, and surgery isn't an option, chemotherapy can be used as the primary treatment. It may also be used in conjunction with hormone therapy or targeted therapy, depending on the type of breast cancer you have.
The main goal of chemotherapy for advanced breast cancer is generally to improve quality and length of life rather than to cure the disease.