Chemotherapy for Metastatic Breast Cancer

For people with metastatic breast cancer, chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells that have spread from the breast to other parts of the body.

Chemotherapy can reduce metastatic breast cancer-related symptoms and increase survival.

Chemotherapy and metastatic breast cancer treatment

Chemotherapy is the preferred treatment for metastatic breast cancers that are:

You’ll be monitored (checked) every few months to see if the cancer is responding to treatment and if the side effects are manageable.

If the first chemotherapy drug (or combination of drugs) stops working and the cancer begins to grow again, a second or third drug can be used.

The use of each chemotherapy drug (or combination of drugs) for metastatic breast cancer is called a “line” of treatment. For example, the first chemotherapy used is called the “first-line” treatment and the second is called the “second-line” treatment.

With each line of treatment, it becomes less likely the cancer will shrink. And, if the cancer does shrink, it’s often controlled for a shorter period of time with each new drug.

It’s common to get multiple lines of chemotherapy regimens (often 4 or more) over the course of treatment for metastatic breast cancer.

Learn more about how metastatic breast cancer is monitored.

Learn more about chemotherapy.

Learn about going through chemotherapy, including how chemotherapy drugs are given.

Learn more about treatment for metastatic breast cancer.

Learn about emerging areas in treatment for metastatic breast cancer.

Chemotherapy drugs commonly used to treat metastatic breast cancer

This table lists the most common chemotherapy drugs (used alone or in combination) to treat metastatic breast cancer. This list isn’t exhaustive and doesn’t include drugs rarely used or no longer in use.

Chemotherapy drugs for metastatic breast cancer*

Drug (abbreviation)

Brand name

Pill or IV drug (given by vein through an IV)






IV drug



IV drug

Cyclophosphamide (C)


Pill or IV drug

Docetaxel (T)


IV drug

Doxorubicin (A)


IV drug

Epirubicin (E)


IV drug



IV drug

5-Fluorouracil (5FU or F)


IV drug



IV drug



IV drug

Liposomal doxorubicin


IV drug

Methotrexate (M)


Pill or IV drug

Paclitaxel (T)


IV drug

Paclitaxel, albumin bound (nab-paclitaxel)


IV drug



IV drug

To learn more about a specific chemotherapy drug, visit the National Institutes of Health’s Medline Plus website.

Side effects of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy has many common side effects, but they vary from drug to drug.

Most side effects occur while undergoing chemotherapy.

Learn about easing worries over side effects of chemotherapy.

Learn about short-term side effects of chemotherapy.

Learn about long-term side effects of chemotherapy.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials offer the chance to try new treatments and possibly benefit from them.

Consider joining a clinical trial when your oncologist is considering changing treatments, before starting a new treatment or when there are limited treatment options.

Susan G. Komen® Breast Care Helpline

If you or a loved one needs information or resources about clinical trials, call the Komen Breast Care Helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877- 465- 6636) or email

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Metastatic Trial Search

The Metastatic Trial Search is a web-based clinical trial matching tool that can help you find clinical trials that fit your needs.

Learn more about clinical trials for people with metastatic breast cancer.

Prescription drug assistance

The cost of drug therapies for metastatic breast cancer can quickly become a financial burden for you and your family.

Medicare and many insurance companies offer prescription drug plans. One may already be included in your policy, or you may be able to buy an extra plan for prescriptions.

Some drugs are off-patent and may have a generic form. Generic drugs cost less than the name brands but are just as effective.

You may also qualify for programs that help with drug costs or offer low-cost or free prescriptions.

Learn more about insurance plans and prescription drug assistance programs.

Learn more about other financial assistance programs.

Komen Financial Assistance Program

Susan G. Komen® created the Komen Financial Assistance Program to help those struggling with the costs of breast cancer treatment by providing financial assistance to eligible individuals.

Funding is available for eligible individuals undergoing breast cancer treatment at any stage or living with metastatic breast cancer (stage IV).

To learn more about this program and other helpful resources, call the Komen Breast Care Helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636) or email

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Susan G. Komen®‘s position on fairness in oral cancer drug coverage

Insurance coverage of oral cancer drugs

Cancer medications given by vein (through an IV) or injection (under the skin or into a muscle) are usually covered under a health insurance plan’s medical benefit. However, cancer medications that are pills (oral cancer drugs) are usually covered under a health insurance plan’s prescription drug benefit.

As a result, people often find themselves facing high out-of-pocket costs when filling prescriptions for oral cancer drugs. Sometimes these costs can be thousands of dollars a month.

The impact of high cost-sharing

High prescription drug costs and the resulting out-of-pocket burden on patients are a barrier to care. They can prevent people from getting the medications prescribed by their health care providers.

No one should be forced to get less appropriate treatment because an insurer gives more coverage for IV and injectable drugs than pills.

Efforts to increase fairness in drug coverage

Komen supports state and federal efforts to require insurers to provide the same or better coverage for oral cancer drugs as they do for IV and injectable cancer drugs. This would help make sure patients have access to affordable, appropriate treatment.

Become a Komen Advocacy Insider

Sign up to be a Komen Advocacy Insider and get informed when action is needed on drug coverage issues at the state or national level.


  • If you or a loved one needs more information about breast health or breast cancer, contact the Komen Breast Care Helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636) or email All calls are answered by a trained specialist or oncology social worker, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET. Se habla español.
  • Komen Patient Navigators can help guide you through the health care system as you go through a breast cancer diagnosis. They can help to remove barriers to high-quality breast care. For example, they can help you with insurance, local resources, communication with health care providers and more. Call the Komen Breast Care Helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636) or email to learn more about our Patient Navigator program, including eligibility.
  • We offer an online support community through our closed Komen Metastatic Breast Cancer group. The Facebook group provides a place where those living with metastatic breast cancer, and those who love them, can find support, friendship and information. Visit Facebook, search for Komen Metastatic Breast Cancer (Stage IV) Group and request to join the closed group.
  • Our free MBC Impact Series provides people living with metastatic breast cancer and their loved ones a safe, collaborative space to gather information related to MBC and discover practical resources to help make decisions for improved physical and emotional health. To learn more and register visit
  • Our podcast series Real Pink covers many relevant topics for people living with metastatic breast cancer and caregivers.
  • Our fact sheets, booklets and other education materials offer additional information.

Komen Perspectives

Read our perspective on metastatic breast cancer.*

Learn More

*Please note, the information provided within Komen Perspectives articles is only current as of the date of posting. Therefore, some information may be out of date.

Updated 06/30/22


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