Health Information

Medications for Breast Cancer

This information will give you a general idea about the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included. Ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications as recommended by your doctor, or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.

Medications may help to either prevent, reduce, or manage side effects. You can develop side effects from the treatment and/or from the cancer itself. Medications typically used are anti-nausea drugs, corticosteroids, painkillers, blood stem cell support, or pain relievers. Tell your doctor when you notice a new symptom. Ask if any of these medications are appropriate for you.

Prescription Medications

Anti-Nausea Medications

  • Prochlorperazine
  • Odansetron
  • Granisetron
  • Metoclopramide
  • Cannabinoids

Corticosteroids

  • Dexamethasone
  • Prednisone

Opioids

  • Hydrocodone
  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone and Acetaminophen

Bisphosphonates

  • Denosumab
  • Pamidronate
  • Zoledronic acid

Blood Stem Cell Support Drugs

  • Filgrastim
  • Epoetin

Over-the-Counter Medications

Pain Relievers

  • Acetaminophen

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

Prescription Medications

Anti-Nausea Medications
  • Prochlorperazine
  • Odansetron
  • Granisetron
  • Metoclopramide
  • Cannabinoids

Anti-nauseants, also called anti-emetics, are given to help treat and or prevent nausea and vomiting that might be induced by chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery.

Prochlorperazine can be taken by mouth, injection, or a suppository. Ondansetron and granisetron can be taken orally or as injections. Metoclopramide is usually given by injection.

Cannabinoids are the active chemicals in marijuana that affect the nervous system and immune system. Certain cannabinoids are used to treat chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting. Medical marijuana can be used in food, taken as a pill, or inhaled.

Possible side effects include:

For prochlorperazine:

  • Blurred vision, change in color vision, or difficulty seeing at night
  • Fainting
  • Loss of balance control
  • Restlessness or need to keep moving
  • Shuffling walk
  • Stiffness of arms or legs
  • Trembling and shaking of hands and fingers

For odansetron:

For granisetron:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness

For metoclopramide:

  • Mild sedation
  • Diarrhea (with high doses)
  • Drowsiness
  • Restlessness
  • Increased risk of tardive dyskinesia—a serious neurological condition that can occur in people who take metoclopramide for longer than three months

For cannabinoids:

  • Rapid heart beat
  • Low blood pressure, which may result in lightheadedness and fainting
  • Blood shot eyes
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
Corticosteroids
  • Dexamethasone
  • Prednisone

Corticosteroids help to minimize inflammation and to relieve pain due to inflammation. You may experience pain and inflammation for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Bone pain from cancer that has spread to your bones
  • Edema (fluid build up in cells) caused by tumors or treatment

Possible side effects include:

  • Increased appetite
  • Indigestion
  • Nervousness or restlessness
Opioids
  • Hydrocodone
  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone and acetaminophen

Opioids act on the central nervous system to relieve pain. These drugs can be very effective. However, they must be used with great caution because they can be mentally and/or physically addicting. If you are going to take one of these drugs for a long period of time, your doctor will closely monitor you.

Percocet is a combination medication. A narcotic analgesic and acetaminophen used together may provide better pain relief than either medication used alone. In some cases, lower doses of each medication are necessary to achieve pain relief.

Possible side effects include:

  • Constipation
  • Lightheadedness
  • Feeling faint
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea or vomiting
Blood Stem Cell Support Drugs
  • Filgrastim
  • Epoetin

During cancer treatment, blood cells can be destroyed along with cancer cells. Filgrastim helps your bone marrow make new white blood cells. White blood cells help your body fight infection. Therefore, filgrastim helps to reduce your risk of infection.

Epoetin helps your bone marrow to make new red blood cells. Low red blood cell levels can lead to anemia . Therefore, epoetin helps reduce your risk of anemia. Epoetin is quite effective, but it has a two-week delay between the injection and when your red blood cell count really starts to come back. It is not used as a “quick fix” for a low red blood cell count; a blood transfusion is usually performed if you need to recover your red blood cell count more quickly.

Both filgrastim and epoetin are given by injection in your doctor's office.

Possible side effects include:

For filgrastim:

  • Headache
  • Pain in arms or legs
  • Pain in joints or muscles
  • Pain in lower back or pelvis
  • Skin rash or itching

For epoetin:

  • Cough, sneezing, or sore throat
  • Fever
  • Swelling of face, fingers, ankles, feet, or lower legs
  • Weight gain
Bisphosphonates
  • Denosumab
  • Pamidronate
  • Zoledronic acid

Cancer treatment, especially anti-estrogen medications, can weaken bones and increase the risk of fracture. Bisphosphonates strengthen bones and increase bone mass, reducing the risk of fracture.

Bisphosphonates that are taken by mouth should be taken on an empty stomach. Therefore, it is recommended that you take it first thing in the morning with a full glass of water, at least 30 minutes before eating, drinking, or taking other medications. To minimize side effects, remain in an upright position for at least 30 minutes after taking this medication.

Possible side effects include:

  • Heartburn
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

Over-the-Counter Medications

Pain Relievers
  • Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen is used to relieve pain. Unlike aspirin products, acetaminophen rarely causes stomach irritation or bleeding. However, people with liver disease or heavy alcohol consumption should avoid these drugs. Get your doctor's approval before using acetaminophen for more than a short time.

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

NSAIDs are used to relieve pain and inflammation. You may experience pain and inflammation for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Bone pain from cancer that has spread to your bones
  • Edema (fluid build up in cells) caused by tumors or treatment

Common side effects include:

  • Stomach cramps, pain, or discomfort
  • Lighheadedness or drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Heartburn, indigestion, nausea, or vomiting

Special Considerations

If you are taking medications, follow these general guidelines:

  • Take your medication as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Do not stop taking them without talking to your doctor.
  • Do not share them.
  • Know what the results and side effects. Report them to your doctor.
  • Some drugs can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist if you are taking more than one drug. This includes over-the-counter medication and herb or dietary supplements.
  • Plan ahead for refills so you don’t run out.

Revision Information

  • Breast cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003090-pdf.pdf. Accessed January 6, 2014.

  • Breast cancer in men. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003091-pdf.pdf. Accessed January 6, 2014.

  • Breast cancer in men. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 1, 2012. Accessed January 6, 2014.

  • Breast cancer in women. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 3, 2014. Accessed January 6, 2014.

  • Cannabis and cannabinoids. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/patient. Updated October 30, 2013. Accessed January 3, 2014.

  • Casciato DA, Territo MC. Manual of Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2004.

  • FDA's MedWatch safety alerts: March 2009. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm142815.htm. Updated December 7, 2013. Accessed January 3, 2014.

  • United States Pharmacopeial Convention. USP DI. 21st ed. Greenwood Village, CO: Micromedex; 2001.