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When is Chemotherapy Used?

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Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)44

Chemotherapy is a typical treatment for SCLC, because SCLC tends to respond well to chemotherapy. Chemotherapy drugs circulate in the bloodstream around the body and hence can reach and attack cancer cells that have spread from the lungs to other parts of the body. Chemotherapy may be used on its own to treat SCLC, or it may be prescribed following surgery.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)45

In the case of NSCLC, chemotherapy is a common treatment though not the only one. Chemotherapy may be prescribed before surgery to shrink the tumor in the lung and make it easier to remove. If the NSCLC is in its early stages, chemotherapy after surgery can help to lower the risk of a relapse. In patients where surgical option is not feasible either due to the stage of disease or patient factor, chemotherapy can be used as the main treatment modality.

If the cancer is at an advanced stage, chemotherapy can be used as a part of palliative treatment for those with metastatic (stage IV) NSCLC.

Triple-negative breast cancer

Chemotherapy is often used to treat triple-negative breast cancer. Although the initial treatment response to chemotherapy is good, triple-negative breast cancer tends to recur more frequently than other types of breast cancer41.

Chemotherapy can be used in one of the following ways:

  • Neoadjuvant therapy when chemotherapy is given before surgery to shrink the tumor38
  • Adjuvant therapy when chemotherapy is given after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells and lower the chances of the cancer returning38
  • In combination with immunotherapy in cases where the cancer has spread and surgery is not an option46
  • As a palliative systemic treatment in cases where the cancer has spread to other organs (metastases)47

How is Chemotherapy Used44,45?

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Intravenous Chemotherapy

Patients usually have intravenous chemotherapy on a regular schedule, with each period of treatment being called a cycle. The chemotherapy drugs can be administered into the venous circulation via:

  • chemotherapy-1

    Intravenous cannula. A cannula is inserted into the vein that resides in the forearm, and chemotherapy drugs are fed into the body through an intravenous drip.

  • chemotherapy-2

    Central venous line. This is a larger intravenous line that is usually inserted into the chest or neck, that delivers the chemotherapy drugs into a large vein.

  • chemotherapy-3

    PICC line. This is a long and thin tube inserted through a vein in the arm passed through the larger veins near your heart. It’s generally used to give medications or liquid nutrition. A PICC line can help avoid the pain of frequent needle sticks and reduce the risk of irritation to the smaller veins.

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    Chemoport. An implantable venous access device, this “wearable” port is inserted under the skin, usually around the right side of the chest into the large vein for easier, reliable, and direct access for intravenous chemotherapy treatment. It delivers a continuous flow of drugs to the body.

Oral Chemotherapy48

Chemotherapy medication taken by mouth according to doctor’s instructions—it is crucial to take the right dose in the correct way.

For more information, please click here for other lung cancer treatment types and here for other triple-negative breast cancer treatment types.