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Types of chemotherapy

The most effective chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer often involve more than one drug.

The chemotherapy drugs recommended will depend on what other treatments the woman is receiving, the type, stage and grade of breast cancer and the woman’s age.

Chemotherapy drugs are grouped based on how they work. The main groups, or classes, of chemotherapy used to treat breast cancer are:

  • anthracyclines such as epirubicin (Pharmorubicin®), doxorubicin (Adriamycin®)
  • mitotic inhibitors such as taxanes, eg paclitaxel (Taxol®), docetaxel (Taxotere®)
  • antimetabolites such as 5-fluorouracil (5FU), capecitabine, 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), gemcitabine (Gemzar®)
  • alkylating agents such as cyclophosphamide
  • taxanes such as paclitaxel (Taxol®), docetaxel (Taxotere®)
  • vinorelbine (Navelbine®)
  • targeted therapies such as trastuzumab (Herceptin®), lapatinib (Tykerb®), bevacizumab (Avastin®).

Each group of chemotherapy drugs works in a slightly different way. All of them kill cancer cells by stopping them from dividing or damaging them in some way.

Combinations of chemotherapy are often referred to using the initials of the drugs being used. For example, FEC chemotherapy is a combination of 5- fluorouracil, epirubicin and cyclophosphamide.