Some breast cancers are formed because of the estrogen in our body and react well to certain hormones and therefore hormone therapy is used as a treatment. These hormones work against estrogen to stop the tumor from growing. This happens in either of two ways—by blocking estrogen or by slowing the body’s production of estrogen.
Often times the surgeon will recommend hormone therapy to decrease the size before the surgery—thus lessening the trauma to the surrounding tissue. If they have found that the cancer has already metastasized then you will have to engage in hormone therapy in order to control it. Hormone therapy is also done after the surgery, which is normally taken for five years post-operative.
Why Is Hormone Therapy Done?
Hormone therapy can deprive the tumor of estrogen for the breast cancer which is estrogen-receptor positive. For why hormone therapy is done, watch the following video:
Hormone therapy for cancer can help in these areas:
- Prevents the cancer form returning to the site of removal
- Decreases the risk of this same type of cancer forming in other parts of the breast or body
- It will slow or in some cases stop the spread of metastasized cancer
- Reduce the size of an existing tumor before surgery
What Are the Risks of Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer?
Some common side effects of hormone therapy include:
- Male impotence in men with breast cancer
- Vaginal discharge, dryness or irritation
- Skin rash
- Pain in joints and muscles
- Menstrual irregularity
- More serious but less common risks
- Easily broken bones from loss of bone mass
- Heart disease
- Blood clots in veins
- Endometrial or vaginal cancers
What Drugs Are Used in Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer?
After chemotherapy is completed, as a post-operative treatment, the hormone therapy will most likely be prescribed as a pill and have to be taken orally once a day. You can take the oral therapy at the same time as radiation therapy.
The surgeon may also ask you to take the oral therapy prior to the operation to shrink the tumor so that the surgery goes smoother and there are fewer traumas to the area. The specific type of therapy as well as the duration will be determined by your individual physical situation.
These are the types of hormone therapy medications used to treat breast cancer.
Function: This is a hormone that is used to block estrogen and may be used before or after surgery and at menopause as well as by men who have breast cancer. The drug class is called anti-estrogen receptors or SERMS (Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators). These are normally taken once a day, orally, and for a total of five years.
Possible side effects:
- Vaginal bleeding or discharge
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Irregular menstrual periods
Risks: Tamoxifen may interfere with fertility, increase blood clots, increase risk of stroke and the risk for cataracts. It may also affect the metabolism of other drug.
2. Aromatase Inhibitors
Function: Aromatase inhibitors are used to reduce the amount of estrogen in your body, depriving breast cancer cells of the hormones they need to grow and thrive.
Common inhibitors used: These are hormones used to inhibit the amount of estrogen the tumor will need to survive. There are three in use today: Anastrozole, Exemastane and Letrozol.
Treatment options: Your treatment phase may go on for ten years after the therapy. Five years with Tamoxifan and another five with Aromatase. But you can also go with Aromatase for five years. This is an individual decision to be made by the patient with their physician.
Possibe side effects
- Pain and stiffness of the joints
- Hot flashes
- Brittle bones
- Vaginal bleeding
Results and Follow-up Care of Hormone Therapy for Breast
At this point you will be seeing your oncologist often for regular checkups and discuss with him any side effects that you are having and he or she will work with you to control them. It has been noted that hormone therapy along with radiation and chemotherapy will greatly reduce the risk of cancer of this type to come back. Your subsequent visits to your doctor while you are taking hormone therapy drugs may include analysis of any regrowth so that they can determine how your body is responding to the hormone therapy for breast cancer.