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Serious Medicine. Extraordinary Care.

Making the Decision to Have Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

Your doctor may suggest chemotherapy to treat breast cancer for any of the following situations.

  • Before your surgery or radiation in Stage II or III breast cancer. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy. You usually have it for several months. It's most often used to shrink the tumor so that it's smaller and may allow you to have breast-conserving surgery.

  • After surgery in Stage I, II, or III breast cancers. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy. You usually have it for four to six months. Adjuvant chemotherapy helps prevent the cancer from spreading and coming back. Whether or not your doctor recommends it depends upon the tumor's size, whether it has spread to lymph nodes, and other features.

  • When the breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body (Stage IV). Because chemotherapy is a systemic therapy (it goes throughout the body to kill cancer cells), it can be used to kill cancer cells that have spread. How long this treatment lasts depends on how much the tumors shrink.