Long-term toxic effects of adjuvant chemotherapy in breast cancer

Ann Oncol. 2011 Sep;22(9):1939-1947. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdq683. Epub 2011 Feb 2.


Breast cancer is the most common malignant tumor affecting women. Adjuvant systemic therapies have been shown to have a significant impact on reducing the risk for breast cancer recurrence and overall mortality. Chemotherapy remains an important and frequently used treatment option in the adjuvant setting, and the associated short-term adverse events are very well described. However, there is insufficient information regarding the long-term sequelae of most chemotherapeutic agents. In this review, we describe different potential long-term adverse events associated with adjuvant chemotherapy in breast cancer, with a particular focus on long-term cardiac toxicity, secondary leukemia, cognitive function, and neurotoxicity. In addition, we discuss the effect of adjuvant chemotherapy on fertility and sexual function of young breast cancer patients. These adverse events are frequently overshadowed by the well-demonstrated clinical efficacy and/or reassuring short-term safety profiles of the different chemotherapy regimens commonly used today. We believe that a proper understanding and appreciation of these adverse events will enable us to refine our strategies for managing breast cancer. The fact that adjuvant chemotherapy is often given to patients who might not really need it urges us to consider the whole spectrum of chemotherapy risks versus benefits to maximize benefit without compromising quality of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / adverse effects*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Chemoradiotherapy, Adjuvant / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans


  • Antineoplastic Agents