Chemotherapy refers to the use of a variety of different drugs that can do as little as slow the growth of cancer cells to as much as kill some, or occasionally, all cancer cells in a patient. Chemotherapy may be given as pills, as an injection, or via an intravenous infusion, depending upon the types of drugs chosen. Combinations of different drugs are usually given, and treatment is administered in cycles with a recovery period following each treatment. There are numerous drugs uses today to treat breast cancer. The same chemotherapy agents used in women for breast cancer can be effective in men. In most cases, chemotherapy is administered on an outpatient basis. Chemotherapy may be associated with unpleasant side effects including fatigue , hair loss , nausea and vomiting , and diarrhea .
For most post-menopausal women whose cancers are hormone receptor-positive, most doctors recommend taking an AI at some point during adjuvant therapy. Right now, standard treatment is to take these drugs for about 5 years,or to alternate with tamoxifen for a total of at least 5 years, or to take in sequence with tamoxifen for at least 3 years. Studies are now being done to see if taking an AI for more than 5 years would be more helpful. Tamoxifen is an option for some women who cannot take an AI. Taking Tamoxifen for 10 years is considered more effective than taking it for 5 years, but you and your doctor will decide the best schedule of treatment for you.
More research is underway to determine if there is a benefit in taking hormonal therapy for longer than 5 years. Some research studies have demonstrated that there may be benefits in switching from one hormonal therapy agent to another during the 5 year period. Your oncologist will discuss with you the most appropriate hormonal therapy regimen based on your breast cancer pathology and age. It is very important to take these pills every day as without adhering to the daily schedule and dosage as planned, you may not reap the benefit of these drugs. Overall, hormonal therapy can reduce risk of recurrence by 50%.
These drugs can be expensive. If you need financial help in paying for these medications contact the medical oncology nurse practitioner or social worker to receive assistance how to get the prescription at a discount.
Based on the side effects listed above, sexual dysfunction can occur. If you are experiencing a drop in libido, vaginal dryness resulting in pain during intercourse, make your oncologist aware as there may be some options for decreasing these side effects.