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What does chemotherapy involve?

Before starting treatment, the woman will meet with a medical oncologist to discuss which types of chemotherapy are recommended and the side effects of these treatments.

The most common way to give chemotherapy is by injection into a vein. This is called intravenous chemotherapy. The drugs are given using a ‘drip’, usually into the hand or arm. Some chemotherapy drugs are given as a tablet (oral chemotherapy). Some women have a combination of tablets and intravenous chemotherapy.

Sometimes it can be difficult to find a suitable vein to give chemotherapy into. If this happens there’s the option of having a long-term access device (infusaport or Portacath®) or a PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter). This involves putting a thin, soft plastic tube into a vein into the chest or arm that can be left in for weeks or months. The tube can be used to deliver chemotherapy. Sometimes, the tube connects to a disc (the ‘port’) under the skin of the chest.

Chemotherapy is usually given in a clinic or hospital on an outpatient basis by a chemotherapy nurse. It may be given in a room or ward with other people who are receiving chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy cycles

Chemotherapy is usually given in ‘cycles’. Each cycle involves a short period of treatment followed by a rest period. This gives the body a chance to recover between treatments. The number of cycles, the length of the treatment period and the length of the rest period will depend on the stage and grade of breast cancer and the type of chemotherapy.