womens health

Understanding the Link Between Chemotherapy and Breast Cancer Recurrence

Breast cancer is a disease that affects millions of women worldwide. It is one of the most common forms of cancer in women, with about 1 in 8 women developing breast cancer at some point in their lives. While there are many treatments available for breast cancer, chemotherapy remains one of the most widely used and effective.

However, recent research has suggested that chemotherapy may not be as effective as previously thought when it comes to preventing breast cancer recurrence. In this article, we will explore the link between chemotherapy and breast cancer recurrence, as well as future advances on this topic.

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a treatment method that uses drugs to kill rapidly dividing cells in the body. These drugs can be administered orally or intravenously and work by targeting cells that divide quickly – including both healthy cells (such as those found in hair follicles) and cancerous cells.

While chemotherapy can be an effective way to treat certain types of cancers, it also comes with its own set of side effects. Some common side effects include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, hair loss and increased risk for infection due to weakened immune systems.

The Link Between Chemotherapy and Breast Cancer Recurrence

For years now, doctors have been prescribing chemotherapy after surgery or radiation therapy for patients who have undergone lumpectomies or mastectomies to remove their tumors. The goal was always to reduce the risk of recurrence by killing any stray tumor cells left behind after surgery.

However, recent studies suggest that while chemotherapy does indeed kill off these remaining tumor cells – it may not actually prevent them from coming back later on down the road.

One study published in The New England Journal Of Medicine followed over 9k patients with early-stage HER2-negative breast cancers treated with adjuvant endocrine therapy alone versus endocrine therapy plus chemo between 2005-2016.[1] The results showed that after five years, the rate of invasive disease-free survival was 92.8% in those who received both therapies, compared to 90.3% among those who only received endocrine therapy.

While this may seem like a small difference – it is significant when you consider that chemotherapy comes with its own set of side effects and risks. For some patients, these risks may outweigh the potential benefits of undergoing chemotherapy.

Future Advances on This Topic

As researchers continue to study breast cancer and its treatments, there are several promising new advances on the horizon that could help improve outcomes for patients.

One such advance is immunotherapy – a treatment method that uses drugs to boost the body’s immune system so it can better fight off cancer cells.[2] While still in early stages of development for breast cancer specifically, studies have shown promise in other types of cancers such as melanoma and lung cancer.

Another promising area of research is precision medicine – an approach that tailors treatment plans to each individual patient based on their unique genetic makeup.[3] By using DNA sequencing technology to analyze tumors at a molecular level, doctors can identify specific mutations or biomarkers that may indicate which treatments will be most effective for each patient.


While chemotherapy has long been considered one of the most effective ways to treat breast cancer – recent studies suggest it may not actually prevent recurrence as effectively as previously thought. As we continue to learn more about this disease and its treatments, there are several exciting new advances on the horizon that could help improve outcomes for patients going forward.


[1] https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1804710

[2] https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/immunotherapy

[3] https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/personalized-medicine

*Note: this site does not provide medical opinions or diagnosis and should not be relied upon instead of receiving medical attention from a licensed medical professional.

author avatar
1WH staff