Chemotherapy and breast cancer: an expert insight

Written by: Dr Apurna Jegannathen
Published:
Edited by: Conor Lynch

Being diagnosed with breast cancer, can, of course, be a catastrophically life-changing occurrence. The good news, however, is that chemotherapy can be an extremely effective treatment option for this beastly illness.

 

In this article, exceptionally skilled and experienced consultant clinical oncologist, Dr Apurna Jegannathen, discusses in further detail just how effective chemotherapy can be for breast cancer patients.

What exactly does chemotherapy help treat or cure when it comes to breast cancer?

Chemotherapy kills any fast-growing cells in the body. Cancer cells, once killed, don’t come back, whereas normal cells do grow back. The curative or palliative intent of chemotherapy depends on the stage of the cancer.

 

After definitive surgery for early localised breast cancer, chemotherapy is given to capture and kill the possible microscopic shower of cancer. In stage three and four of breast cancer, where the cancer is inoperable due to the fact that it is locally advanced, surgery may not remove all the cancer cells. The intent of chemotherapy here is treatable but palliative, not curative.

 

How often would chemotherapy typically be required for patients with breast cancer?

Around 30 to 40 per cent of early breast cancer patients would require adjuvant chemotherapy. In stage four, it would vary between 12 to 24 months at one stretch depending on tolerability and response. Having said that, there are many lines of palliative chemotherapy to choose from if one line fails.

 

How effective is it? Does it depend on the patient's stage of cancer?

Usually, chemotherapy is extremely effective, with a 60 to 70 per cent successful response rate. Cancer can be resistant or refractory to chemotherapy treatment, and the effectiveness depends on the sensitivity of the tumour. To some extent, it does depend on the biology and stage of the cancer, as well as the fitness and comorbidities of the patients.

 

What can breast cancer patients expect in the chemotherapy process?

All patients consented for chemotherapy will go through a pre-chemotherapy assessment by the chemotherapy unit run by the dedicated chemotherapy trained nurses. They will be given a 24/7 helpline number to contact, check their understanding regarding side effects, and how to seek advice.

 

There are generic common temporary side effects from all chemotherapy. The most common ones include the following:

 

  • tiredness and lethargy
  • hair loss
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • constipation
  • risk of anaemia
  • infection
  • bruising episodes
  • life-threatening sepsis

 

Very rarely, death can occur if neutropenic sepsis is not treated immediately. There are also some specific side effects to some chemotherapy treatments, such as kidney damage, hearing impairment, tinnitus, angina, palpitations, heart attack, sore hands and feet, diarrhoea, nail changes, pins and needles, extravasation, as well as leakage of chemotherapy fluid from the injection site, causing tissue injury and damage.  

 

Dr Apurna Jegannathen is a highly proficient consultant clinical oncologist who can help you overcome the challenges faced if you have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Consult with her today via her Top Doctors profile.

By Dr Apurna Jegannathen
Clinical oncology

Dr Apurna Jegannathen is a leading consultant clinical oncologist based in Birmingham. She sees patients at the highly regarded Nuffield Health - North Staffordshire Hospital and GenesisCare. She specialises in the treatment of all stages of breast cancer, lung cancer, carcinoma of unknown primary, radical radiotherapy, stereotactic ablative radiotherapy for lung and oligometastasis, chemotherapytargeted therapy, and personalised precision therapy using next-generation sequencing (also known as genomic signatures). Dr Jegannathen is the former clinical director for cancer services at the University Hospital of North Midlands (UHNM)

Alongside her posts at the University Hospital of North Midlands and the Nuffield Health North Staffordshire Hospitals, Dr Jegannathen holds the position of SABR lead and lung cancer lead at UHNM, and has held the clinical director post for oncology, haematology, palliative care, and immunology. Additionally, she has recently been appointed as deputy chair for West Midlands Lung Cancer Advisory Group.

Dr Jegannathen previously completed training at the Christie Hospital in Manchester, the Royal Preston Hospital, the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, and at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Birmingham, as well as a period as visiting fellow at the renowned Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Canada.

Alongside her clinical work, Dr Jegannathen is actively involved in clinical research, and is principal investigator on many trials in lung and breast cancer, and has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals. She also devotes time to the teaching of undergraduate and postgraduate medical professionals. Along with the clinical research, Dr Jegannathen shares multiple educational regional meetings on lung and breast cancer supported by pharmaceutical companies (Novartis, Roche, Pfizer, Astra Zeneca, Lilly, Otsuka, Eisai and Merck, Helsinn).

Aside from her expertise in oncology, Dr Jegannathen is fascinated by music therapy. She has a passion for vocal and instrumental music and she plays the Veena, which is an Indian classical instrument. She encourages her patients to listen to her music which produces a relaxing and calming effect.

 

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