Dr. Marilou Terpenning answers important questions for women with breast cancer on chemotherapy regimens.
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Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer FAQ One of the things that’s important to know from the beginning is when you’re starting on something or considering treatments such as chemotherapy is how this is going to affect your life. So I think it’s good to think of the macro process and that is to figure out how long your going to be on treatment for, how often you’ll have to be at the office and what are the side effects that you’ll have after treatment between treatments so you can begin to predict your quality of life and how you’re going to carry out some of the other activities that you have as a woman because you have many things you do other than take chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is selected for a woman after breast cancer diagnosis if there are certain characteristics that could predict that she may have a higher risk for reoccurrence. There really are only four to six commonly used programs and the program is discussed with them and recommendations made in agreed upon. So some of the important questions to find out is “How often do I receive treatment?” “What drugs do I receive treatment with?” “At what frequency do I have to come to the office?” “How is chemotherapy given?” “What are the immediate side effects?” “What are the cumulative side effects?” “How well will I be able to function compare to how I’m functioning right now?” So what I’d like to do for a woman who is newly diagnosed is to review the regimen itself and go through the frequency of it. For example, I will be giving you treatment every three weeks and you will be here for three and a half hours that day and you can bring a friend to keep you company and you can expect to go home afterwards feeling well, and afterwards you’ll take medication on certain frequency which we’ll have written out for you with written instructions so you know just what to do. And then, I might tell her once she’ll be coming back after her treatment for check-ups or if she needs any injections of adjunctive medication such as a growth factor. Those are hormones that are designed to boost up the production of blood cells to prevent any complications at chemotherapy. We’ll give her her schedule for that too. We tend to be very structured when I start someone on chemo because it is all new to someone and they need to have an organization for them to know what to do and which day at the week. I think it's important to make sure that you have instructions as to how this medicine affect me, how will I feel for the few days after treatment that helps a woman select what day of the week she might want treatment. For example, if she’s told that she may feel weak for two or three days after treatment, she may select the treatment on Thursday so that she can take Friday off from work and be back to work on Monday. If on the other hand she may not be working out at the home and there are kids she wants to be with on the weekend, she may have her treatment on a Tuesday so she’s fine by the weekend. So this way, a woman feels more on control of her schedule and knows how to fit into her life rather than be told what to do. In chemotherapy, cumulative fatigue is usually one of its side affects. So that progressively over the course of the number of treatments she receives and usually it's a fixed amount either four, six, eight for example. Cumulatively to feel more tired as you reach the end of your treatment time. Many women continue to work during treatment. Many women have young children to take care of. So it's really important for them to know what capacity they’re going to have. How much work I'm going to be able to do? How will I be able take care of my kids and my home? For most women who are in treatment, I recommend that they consider that they’re going to be around 2/3 to three quarters of their normal energy level. So that if they have a busy household with several children and they’re doing their own housekeeping they know when to hire on a temporary basis or else get a friend t