Medical Oncology


Medical oncology treats breast cancer using chemotherapy or other medications.

The medical oncologists you’ll see are Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) medical oncologists, located within the Halvorson Cancer Center in Kirkland. That means you'll benefit from their cancer-fighting expertise without having to fight traffic to get to the SCCA facilities in downtown Seattle.

For breast cancer, chemotherapy can serve several purposes:

  • it can be the primary treatment (used alone or in combination with surgery and radiation therapy)
  • it can be used to shrink your tumor prior to surgery
  • it can be used after surgery or radiation treatment to eradicate any remaining cancer cells

What type of chemotherapy will you receive?

The type of chemotherapy you receive will depend on several factors:

  • where the cancer is located
  • the effect of the cancer on your normal body functions
  • your general overall health

And because some drugs work better together than alone, often two or more drugs are given at the same time. This is called combination chemotherapy.


How long will my chemotherapy treatments take?

The duration of each treatment depends on the method, and the number and the amount of medications prescribed. You may get treatment every day, every week or every month.

Chemotherapy is often given in cycles that include treatment periods alternated with rest periods to give your body a chance to build healthy new cells and regain its strength.


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How is chemotherapy given?

The vast majority of the drugs are given through an IV infusion at the Halvorson Cancer Center. 

For your comfort, the infusion center's 21 treatment suites offer private rooms and treatment bays with garden views, heated comfortable recliners and a nourishment center filled with healthy snacks.

Most of the treatment suites offer your own TV to watch. You can also listen to your favorite music on your headphones or ear buds.


What are the side effects of chemotherapy?

With advances in the last two decades, the most commonly-used chemotherapy drugs for breast cancer now have minimal nausea and vomiting. You may also be given anti-nausea medications.

The good news is the majority of our patients who work are now able to keep working throughout their chemotherapy, though we do suggest a lighter work schedule or maybe a few days off here and there.

Symptom management

If needed, you will also have access to EvergreenHealth's Palliative Medicine experts, who can help with symptom management.

Will I lose my hair?

Hair loss is perhaps the biggest concern about undergoing chemotherapy. Many of our patients have had some success in reducing hair loss, and increasing the rate of regrowth after treatment ends, by using a cooling cap. Cooling caps are tightly fitting, strap-on, helmet-type hats filled with a gel coolant that's chilled to between -15 to -40 degrees. 

The Halvorson Cancer Center has two cooling cap systems available; you will need to pay for your cap. While there still is some hair loss, patients using the cooling cap typically don't need a wig.

One thing to note about using the cooling cap system is that it does add an extra two hours to the length of your stay during each chemotherapy treatment. You'll need to cool down before your treatment, and then stay up to 90 minutes after treatment so the coolent keeps protecting your skull while the drug is still circulating.

If you would like a wig, visit The Boutique, located in our Cancer Resource Center. Our staff can help fit you with a new or gently used wig, and they also offer a lovely selection of head scarves.


Do I need chemotherapy?

Not every breast cancer patient will need chemotherapy. Our Seattle Cancer Care Alliance medical oncologists will utilize their expertise and genetic testing to determine the benefit of chemotherapy relative to the size and stage of your tumor.

One of the genetic tests is the Oncotype DX tumor profiling test. By testing a sample of your tumor, which is removed during a biopsy or surgery, Oncotype DX can help predict how your cancer is likely to respond and how effective chemotherapy will be as a treatment. This has spared many lower risk women from chemotherapy.

You may be a candidate for the Oncotype DX test if:

  • you’ve recently been diagnosed with stage I or II invasive breast cancer
  • the cancer is estrogen-receptor-positive
  • there is no cancer in your lymph nodes (lymph-node-negative breast cancer)

Learn about other breast cancer treatment options:

Surgery

Radiation Oncology

Clinical Trials