Choosing a Chemotherapy Combination

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It may seem like you're facing a big alphabet soup of medicine combinations when you and your doctor start to talk about which chemotherapy regimen might be best for you.

There are a number of tried-and-true chemotherapy regimens used to treat breast cancer, including:

  • AC: Adriamycin and Cytoxan
  • AT: Adriamycin and Taxotere
  • CMF: Cytoxan, methotrexate, and fluorouracil
  • FAC: fluorouracil, Adriamycin, and Cytoxan
  • CAF: Cytoxan, Adriamycin, and fluorouracil
    (The FAC and CAF regimens use the same medicines but use different doses and frequencies)

Your doctor also may recommend using only one medicine at a time such as Adriamycin or another anthracycline, or a taxane (Taxotere, Taxol, or Abraxane).

You and your doctor will consider several important factors when deciding on a chemotherapy regimen:

  • The characteristics of the cancer. The cancer's stage, hormone-receptor status, HER2 status, and lymph node status will influence the chemotherapy regimen your doctor recommends.
  • Your menopausal status and general health. Your doctor will take into account your general health and menopausal status when recommending a chemotherapy regimen. If you have heart problems, high blood pressure, or another condition for which you're being treated, this will likely affect the chemotherapy medicines that will work best for you. Chemotherapy is effective for people of all ages -- your age shouldn't stop you from being offered chemotherapy.

It's important to remember that while there are many standard chemotherapy regimens, each person's treatment plan will be unique because each cancer is unique. Doctors have developed and tested effective treatment plans of different lengths and dosages using different medicines.

Most short-term chemotherapy side effects can be managed with lifestyle changes and medicines that can help reduce nausea, fatigue, and the risk of infection. If you're concerned about side effects, talk to your doctor.

After reviewing all the options, you and your doctor will decide on a chemotherapy regimen, dosage, and length of time to receive it that's right for you. Your ideal chemotherapy regimen will:

  • attack all the different kinds of cells in the cancer
  • use medicines that work together (if you're getting combination therapy), without overlapping benefits or side effects
  • work in a way that keeps the cancer cells from figuring out how to protect themselves
  • balance the benefits you'll get from the medicine with any possible side effects

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