Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy



Neoadjuvant chemotherapy allows doctors to more readily target malignant growths at a later stage. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is chemotherapy given to a cancer patient prior to their initial course of treatment. The goal is to use medications to decrease a malignant tumor before going on to other therapies, such as surgery.

"Neoadjuvant" therapy refers to any cancer treatment provided before to the primary treatment with the purpose of increasing the likelihood of the main treatment's effectiveness. Because surgery is the primary treatment for breast cancer, neoadjuvant therapy refers to any treatment given prior to surgery. In many individuals, neoadjuvant chemotherapy can enhance the patient's prognosis and postoperative recovery.



Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is frequently used in conjunction with surgery to treat cancer. If your cancer treatment plan includes adjuvant or neoadjuvant chemotherapy, it indicates you will be treated with both chemotherapy and surgery.

Chemotherapy is the use of highly effective medications to either kill or delay the development of cancer cells. It is routinely given before or after surgery to enhance outcomes. The various words denote the sequence in which you will get these treatments:

  • Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is administered before to surgery with the purpose of reducing a tumor or preventing cancer spread, making surgery less invasive and more successful.
  • Adjuvant chemotherapy is given after surgery to destroy any leftover cancer cells and reduce the risks of recurrence.

Whether your doctor suggests chemotherapy before or after surgery is determined by a number of factors, including:

  • Cancer type and stage
  • Whether or not the cancer has spread to lymph nodes
  • The purpose of therapy, whether it is to cure your body of cancer, to decrease the disease's development and spread, or to alleviate cancer symptoms
  • Your body's ability to endure repeated treatments.


Many cancer patients benefit from neoadjuvant and adjuvant therapy, but not all. The kind and stage of a patient's cancer frequently determine whether he or she is a candidate for further therapy. For example, if cancer is discovered in a significant number of lymph nodes during surgery, the probability of cancer cells remaining increases, and adjuvant therapy may be beneficial. Furthermore, because certain cancers are caused by certain mutations that have a high risk of recurrence, adjuvant treatment may benefit individuals with these tumors more than those with cancers with a lower recurrence risk.

This systemic therapy (chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or hormone therapy) or radiation therapy is typically utilized in locally advanced tumors when an operation is planned at a later stage, such as pancreatic cancer. The application of such therapy can significantly lessen the difficulties and morbidity of more elaborate surgeries.

By reducing the volume of a tumor, treatment can transform it from untreatable to curable. It is frequently unclear which surrounding tissues are actively implicated in the disease and which are just displaying indications of inflammation. Often, a distinction can be made by giving treatment. Some doctors administer the treatment in the expectation of eliciting a reaction that will allow them to choose the optimal course of action. In some cases, such as ovarian cancer, magnetic resonance imaging can predict a patient's response to neoadjuvant therapy.


Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy definition

Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy definition

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is a form of cancer treatment in which chemotherapy medications are given prior to surgical removal of the tumor. To provide your doctor additional surgical options for your treatment, your doctor may suggest neoadjuvant chemotherapy to decrease the breast cancer tumor. The surgeon can distinguish between healthy and diseased tissue by shrinking the malignant growth.

This therapy, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS)Trusted Source, helps reduce dangerous tumors, making them easier to remove. Cancerous tissue that is not yet apparent on imaging tests may be killed by neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

Doctors frequently employ neoadjuvant chemotherapy as a test to assess how cancer will respond to a specific medicine. If the cancer does not respond to that medicine, physicians will try another one. They may opt to try a new medication family or a combination of two or three different medicines.

Adjuvant chemotherapy is administered after the first treatment rather than before it. Oncologists may advise neoadjuvant or adjuvant chemotherapy based on a variety of variables, including:

  • Cancer type
  • Cancer progression
  • Treatment goals, such as easing symptoms or slowing growth
  • The likelihood that a person will be able to tolerate multiple treatments


What are the Benefits of Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy?

benefits of neoadjuvant chemotherapy

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy has no proven benefits other than:

  • Making the surgical removal of tumors easier
  • Making inoperable tumors operable
  • Reducing the need for mastectomies

Although neoadjuvant chemotherapy may offer significant advantages, clinical investigations have not definitively demonstrated them. Furthermore, they claim that it does not appear that this treatment directly boosts survival rates when compared to adjuvant therapy. However, certain malignancies react very well to neoadjuvant chemotherapy, and the treatment is often so successful that it minimizes the likelihood of cancer recurring.

Breast cancer neoadjuvant treatment lowered mastectomy rates by 7-13 percent. This was because early stage breast cancer responds fast to therapy, increasing the likelihood that a person would not require surgery to remove breast tissue.


When Neoadjuvant Therapy may be Recommended? 

neoadjuvant therapy

Neoadjuvant therapy may be recommended: 

  • To minimize the size of the tumor so that you can have breast conserving surgery (lumpectomy) rather than having the entire breast removed (mastectomy).
  • To minimize the size of the tumor so that less tissue is removed - this may result in a better aesthetic outcome.
  • If you have a kind of breast cancer that is rapidly developing, such as inflammatory breast cancer, triple negative breast cancer, or HER2 positive breast cancer.
  • You may be able to undergo a sentinel lymph node biopsy that removes 1-3 nodes instead of the more thorough axillary lymph node dissection to limit the number of lymph nodes that need to be taken from the armpit (axilla).
  • If you have a significant family history of breast cancer, you may elect to undergo a different type of surgery if you are confirmed to have an inherited breast cancer gene mutation.
  • To ascertain the efficacy of systemic therapy (e.g., chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or hormone-blocking therapy) in the treatment of your breast cancer.
  • To offer greater information regarding the likelihood of cancer recurrence (recurrence.)


What to expect before Neoadjuvant Therapy?

Neoadjuvant Therapy Expectation

A needle biopsy will be performed prior to the start of neoadjuvant treatment to remove a tiny quantity of tumor tissue. A clip is frequently inserted in the tumor bed so that the tumor may be discovered later during surgery. This clip is radiopaque, which means it can be seen on an X-ray. It is often removed via surgery.

Biopsy tissue tests confirm your diagnosis and uncover biomarkers such as hormone receptor and HER2 status. These considerations indicate which neoadjuvant treatment will be most beneficial.


Types of Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy regimens

The neoadjuvant chemotherapy regimens are the same as those given after surgery. The majority are anthracycline or taxane-based treatments. Neoadjuvant treatment for HER2-positive malignancies is often a mix of chemotherapy and the HER2-targeted therapeutic medicines trastuzumab (Herceptin) and pertuzumab (Perjeta)

Some triple negative cancers (hormone receptor-negative and HER2-negative) at high risk of recurrence may benefit from neoadjuvant treatment with pembrolizumab (Keytruda).


How are Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy Treatments Given?

chemotherapy treatments

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NACT) is given in cycles, with each cycle consisting of a treatment phase followed by a resting interval. Chemotherapy chemicals are administered orally or intravenously in 3 to 6 month rounds.

Otherwise, NACT follows standard chemotherapy administration choices, taking into account the kind and stage of cancer, as well as other health-related concerns.

Options for chemo delivery are:

  • Oral (by mouth)
  • Intravenous (IV), which means injected into a vein, usually in a continuous drip through a catheter
  • Injected under the skin (subcutaneous)
  • Topical, as a cream
  • Injected into a muscle

Chemotherapy can be administered at a hospital, a doctor's office, the patient's home, or even the patient's job. The oncologist (a tumor specialist) will examine the exact chemo medication, dose, and expected adverse effects when deciding where and how to administer chemotherapy.


Risks Associated with Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy

neoadjuvant chemotherapy risks

Delaying surgery to remove the dangerous tumor may allow it to spread throughout the body, making treatment more difficult.

Other adverse effects of neoadjuvant chemotherapy differ depending on how your body reacts to the medication. Most adverse effects are temporary and disappear as therapy is completed.

Side effects may include:

  • Hair loss
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Neuropathy (nerve damage)
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Decreased cognitive function
  • Constipation or diarrhea


Chemotherapy can cause longer term side effects such as:


Recurrence with Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy

Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy Recurrence

There was no difference in rates of breast cancer recurrence or overall survival between women who had neoadjuvant chemotherapy and those who received adjuvant treatment. One large study discovered that 10 years following neoadjuvant therapy, the rates of breast cancer recurrence were:

  • Approximately 10% of women who were able to receive a lumpectomy plus radiation therapy instead of a mastectomy.
  • For women who had a mastectomy but did not receive radiation therapy, the figure was around 13%.


Neoadjuvant vs. Adjuvant Chemotherapy

adjuvant chemotherapy

The primary distinction between neoadjuvant and adjuvant chemotherapy is how doctors employ each treatment.

Oncologists often employ neoadjuvant chemotherapy to increase the likelihood that the primary treatment, like as surgery, will be effective. They can also use it to assess a person's reaction to various medicines. Adjuvant chemotherapy eliminates malignant cells that may have survived the original treatment.

Aside from this, both forms of treatment are similar in terms of their administration. Both types:

  • Reduce the risk of cancer coming back
  • Usually involve a treatment course of 3–6 months
  • Are adjustable according to a person’s unique circumstances and tolerance

The rate of survival following both treatments is determined by the kind and stage of a person's cancer, as well as the medications prescribed by an oncologist and the person's general condition.


Neoadjuvant therapy for breast cancers

Neoadjuvant therapy may locally "downstage" the tumor, allowing for less invasive surgery to the breast and/or axilla, potentially allowing for breast conserving surgery in situations where mastectomy was initially required, leading to improved cosmetic outcomes and potentially avoiding axillary node clearance, reducing the risk of postoperative lymphoedema.

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy cures axillary nodal illness in roughly 35% of patients. Patients with triple-negative cancer will have their nodes cleared in approximately 50% of cases, while patients with ER-positive disease will have their nodes cleared in less than 10% of cases. In up to 70% of HER2+ tumors, nodes are transformed from involved to clear with a combination of chemotherapy and trastuzumab.

Neoadjuvant treatment also allows for an early assessment of the efficacy of systemic therapy. The prevalence and amount of residual invasive cancer following neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC) is a powerful predictor of later recurrence, particularly in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2-positive (HER2+) breast cancer.

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy was first used in breast cancer patients who had "inoperable" disease to make them operable candidates. However, the potential advantages of NAC in early operable breast cancer have lately been recognized.

While surgery is still the first-line treatment for the majority of patients with early breast cancer, neoadjuvant chemotherapy is becoming more common in the multidisciplinary treatment of patients with operable breast cancer.



Cancer usually requires more than one treatment. Treatment strategies frequently include a main therapy (usually surgery or radiation therapy) as well as adjuvant and/or neoadjuvant therapy. Neoadjuvant treatments are administered prior to the primary therapy to assist shrink a tumor or destroy cancer cells that have spread.