When to take a break from chemo?

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Question from Linda: When is a chemo break reasonable?
Answers - Eric Winer, M.D. Again, this is an area where we can individualize treatment. In a woman who had very severe symptoms from her metastatic cancer and who is tolerating chemotherapy beautifully, I often continue chemotherapy for a long period of time, because studies have shown that the longer you continue, the longer the cancer will remain under control.

But with women who did not have such severe symptoms or who are tolerating chemotherapy poorly, I often stop the chemotherapy—because those same studies say that even though the cancer may start growing again, we can use the same treatment or other treatments at that time, and the long-term results will be very similar.

Musa Mayer Living with metastatic breast cancer is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to have a life that is meaningful for you, and to undergo treatments that are tolerable and allow you to live that life. Sometimes that will mean taking a break. Maybe your doctor can 'rest you' on a milder treatment like hormonal treatment, or maybe you just need some time off. The important thing is to have the kind of relationship with your doctor where you can discuss your personal life and your goals, and work out a treatment plan together that makes you feel like you're in charge and that your life continues to be worth living.
Eric Winer, M.D. One of the aspects of metastatic breast cancer that sometimes scares women the most is this idea that they're going to be on chemotherapy forever, and it just does not have to be that way. As Musa was just saying, sometimes treatment breaks can be very helpful for some people. I'm afraid that sometimes people, both patients and doctors, are afraid to take those breaks, but sometimes they're useful to travel or do certain things that would not be possible while getting treatment.

Also, sometimes those breaks allow people to recover so they can then face more treatment down the road. Some treatments are given once a month, every three weeks, or every week. As you heard before, we have some chemotherapy treatments that are oral and can be taken at home. In selecting an individual chemotherapy drug, doctors and women with breast cancer have to talk to each other and work closely and figure out what will work best, not only for the cancer but also, more importantly, for the woman and her life.

The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Metastatic Breast Cancer featured Musa Mayer, Eric P. Winer, M.D., and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about treatment and quality of life issues related to advanced (metastatic) breast cancer.

Editor's Note: This conference took place in September 2003.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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