Chemotherapy for breast cancer in men

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. You may have it after surgery to reduce the chances of breast cancer coming back (adjuvant chemotherapy). Some men have chemotherapy before surgery to reduce the size of the cancer (neo-adjuvant chemotherapy). It can also be given to control cancer that has come back or spread to another part of the body.

There are different ways of giving chemotherapy drugs. You will usually be given the drugs into a vein as an injection or as a drip. This is called intravenous chemotherapy. Some drugs are also given as tablets.

You will usually have a session of chemotherapy followed by a rest period of a few weeks to let your body recover. This is called a cycle of treatment. Your doctor or nurse will tell you how many cycles are recommended for you.

There are many different combinations of chemotherapy drugs. Your doctor or nurse will explain which would work best for you. They may offer you a choice of chemotherapy treatments as different ones have different side effects.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Cytotoxic means toxic to cells.

These drugs disrupt the way cancer cells grow and divide, but they also affect normal cells.


When you have chemotherapy

Some men have chemotherapy before surgery to shrink a large cancer (neo-adjuvant treatment). Or your cancer specialist may recommend you have chemotherapy after surgery to reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back. This is called adjuvant treatment. Your doctor or nurse will explain the benefits of this to you and the likely side effects.

You are usually offered chemotherapy after surgery if the cancer:

Chemotherapy can also be used to control breast cancer that has come back (recurrent cancer) or spread to another part of the body (secondary breast cancer).

Cancer research trials look at how to improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy and other therapies. Your cancer specialist may ask you to take part in a research trial that compares different types of treatment.


How chemotherapy is given

You usually have chemotherapy in the chemotherapy day unit and go home after it. The drugs are usually given into a vein (intravenously).

When you have intravenous chemotherapy, the nurse will give you the drugs as an injection into a vein or as a drip (infusion).

You usually have them through a small tube (cannula) in your hand or arm. Sometimes they are given through a soft plastic tube called a central line or PICC line. These lines go into a large vein in your chest. Chemotherapy can also be given into a thin, soft plastic tube, with a rubber disc (port) under the skin on your upper chest.

Chemotherapy is given into the vein as one or more sessions of treatment. Each session takes a few hours. After the session, you will have a rest period of a few weeks. The chemotherapy session and the rest period is called a cycle of treatment.

The length of a cycle depends on the chemotherapy drugs you are taking, but most cycles are between one and three weeks long. Your doctor or nurse will explain more about this. Most courses of chemotherapy are made up of six cycles.


The drugs used

If you are having adjuvant chemotherapy, you will have a combination of different chemotherapy drugs. Some commonly used combinations include:

  • FEC – fluorouracil (5FU), epirubicin and cyclophosphamide
  • FEC-T – FEC followed by docetaxel (Taxotere®)
  • AC or EC – doxorubicin (Adriamycin®) and cyclophosphamide or epirubicin and cyclophosphamide
  • CMF – cyclophosphamide, methotrexate and fluorouracil (5FU)
  • E-CMF – epirubicin and CMF.

Adjuvant chemotherapy usually includes an anthracycline drug, such as epirubicin or doxorubicin. If there is more risk of the cancer coming back, docetaxel (Taxotere) is also usually included. Your doctor may offer you a choice of chemotherapy treatments.


Secondary breast cancer

For secondary breast cancer, the drugs you have will depend on the chemotherapy drugs you’ve previously had. You often have a single drug but sometimes a combination of drugs are used.

Drugs that may be used to treat secondary breast cancer include:

Back to Chemotherapy explained

Where can you have chemotherapy?

You usually have chemotherapy in a chemotherapy day unit or clinic. If your treatment is more complex, you may need to stay in hospital.

Who might I meet?

A team of medical specialists will be involved throughout the course of your chemotherapy treatment.