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Chemotherapy is a commonly administered, very effective breast cancer treatment that uses anti-cancer drugs to interfere with the cancer cell's ability to grow or reproduce.

Chemotherapy is administered on dedicated medical oncology units staffed by Inova Breast Care Institute physicians and nurses. These professionals are highly experienced in chemotherapy and its side effects, pain management and cancer education. Chemotherapy may be used alone or combined with other treatments such as radiation or surgery. Your medical oncologist consults with radiation therapists and surgeons about your overall treatment plan and determines the proper medications and dosage.

Chemotherapy for breast cancer usually is given intravenously into the bloodstream (IV). It can also be given as a pill to swallow or as an injection into muscle or fat tissue.

Chemotherapy may be given prior to breast surgery to shrink the tumor. More often it is administered following surgery to destroy any residual cancer cells in the body.

Chemotherapy and side effects

Chemotherapy is a highly effective treatment for breast cancer. But the cancer-fighting drugs travel to all parts of the body, not just to the cancer cells. As a result, some patients experience side effects that may include nausea, vomiting, confusion, headaches, sores in the mouth, redness or dryness of the mouth, diarrhea or constipation and hair loss.

Each woman reacts differently to treatment, which is why side effects range from mild to severe. Some women experience no side effects at all.

Talk with your cancer care team and learn about potential side effects before you begin treatment. Armed with this information, you and your caregivers will be better prepared to minimize, or even prevent, side effects.

Chemotherapy services are available at all Inova Breast Care Institute locations.