What is chemotherapy for secondary breast cancer?

Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. The drugs are carried in the blood and can reach cancer cells anywhere in the body.

You usually have chemotherapy as your first treatment if:

  • the cancer does not have receptors for oestrogen (ER-negative)
  • the cancer is in the liver or lungs
  • the cancer is growing quickly.

If you have had chemotherapy before, your doctors will choose a different drug or drugs. Women with HER2-positive breast cancer may have chemotherapy in combination with a targeted therapy drug.

Your cancer doctor may invite you to take part in a clinical trial.

The drugs used

Your cancer doctor or nurse will explain which drug or drugs are likely to be most helpful in your situation.

The chemotherapy drugs commonly used to treat secondary breast cancer are:

You usually have a single drug but some women may have two drugs given together.

Doctors may use some other chemotherapy drugs in certain situations. A drug called paclitaxel albumin (Abraxane®) is sometimes given after other chemotherapy drugs have been tried. You may also have it if you have had an allergic reaction to a taxane drug.

A drug called eribulin (Halaven®) may be given to women who have already had two other courses of chemotherapy.

Certain drugs may not be widely available on the NHS. You may have them as part of a clinical trial. Sometimes a specialist may apply for individual funding for a drug or, if you live in England, they may be available through the Cancer Drugs Fund.

Your cancer doctor and nurse will explain which type of chemotherapy is appropriate for you. They will also talk to you about the benefits and the likely side effects of the drugs.

Back to Chemotherapy explained

Your feelings

You may experience difficult feelings while having chemotherapy treatment. Talking these over can be helpful.