Chemotherapy Before Surgery for Breast Cancer

Kevin R. Fox, MD
Last Modified: October 27, 2002

Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
My mother has been diagnosed with stage 3-breast cancer. They are telling her that they want her to do chemotherapy before the surgery to remove her breast. Can you please explain to me why they would be doing this? 

Answer

Kevin R. Fox, MD, Assistant Director, Clinical Affairs and Associate Professor of Hematology/Oncology at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

In patients with larger tumors in the breast, chemotherapy may be recommended prior to surgical removal to shrink the tumor and make the operation easier. Usually, patients with small tumors have surgery first with a decision on chemotherapy made after the pathology has been reviewed. So, your mother's treatment is a reversal of the usual sequence, but it is quite common for patients with larger tumors in the breast.

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