Breast Cancer Hormone Treatment: Types, Side Effects, Precautions & Concerns

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Breast cancer hormone treatment is a treatment modality used to treat breast cancer which is found to be sensitive to certain hormones, which are the estrogen or progesterone hormone.

Treatment for Women with Hormone Receptor-positive in Early Stage Breast Cancer

Especially in early stage breast cancer, women with hormone receptor-positive score can respond well to hormonal therapy. The determination of hormone receptor is not done by blood test but by microscopic examination on tumor tissues that have been removed by biopsy. Breast cancers that are estrogen receptor positive or progesterone receptor positive are those dependents on that type of hormones for multiplications and growth. Once breast cancer is found to be estrogen receptor positive, then hormone therapy should be considered regardless the size and stage of the cancer.

Hormone Treatment for Breast Cancer is not Hormone Replacement Therapy

Very often, patients confuse hormone treatment for breast cancer with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) which is meant for postmenopausal women. Introduction of hormones in postmenopausal women is meant to control the menopausal symptoms. In breast cancers that are dependent on hormones, hormone therapy aims to inhibit the action of the hormones that promote the growth of cancer cells.

Different Types of Hormone Treatments

Essentially, there are mainly two different types of hormone therapy for breast cancers.

• Using breast cancer hormone treatment drugs that block or compete with estrogen or progesterone hormone from attaching at the receptor sites. By blocking the attachment, the effects that are caused by the hormone can be minimized. Thus, the growth of cancer cell can be halted.

• The production of hormones from the ovaries can be stopped by resorting to surgery or hormone treatment drugs.

Aims of Hormone Treatments in Breast Cancer Patients

The average duration of hormone treatment in breast cancer patients is 5 years. Basically, the objectives of hormone treatments are as follows:

• Before Surgery: To reduce the size of tumor.

• After Surgery: To prevent recurrence of cancer.

• Advanced Stage: To stop or slow down the growth rate of the cancer.

• Other Breast: To decrease the risk of developing cancer.

Possible Side-Effects

Common side-effects of hormone treatments are quite similar to those in post menopausal. The side-effects include:

  • Vaginal dryness and/or itching
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Fluid retention and/or weight gain
  • Headache
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Skin rash
  • Fatigue

Precautions and Concerns

Tamoxifen, a type of anti-estrogen drug may cause harm to the unborn fetus. Thus, pregnancy must be planned at least for more than two months after completion of the Tamoxifen therapy.

Areas of concern to be discussed with your doctor include:

• Annual pelvic examination should not be missed even while having the hormone treatment.

• Any unusual vaginal bleeding.

• Plan for pregnancy, choice of contraception while on treatment.

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Mayo Clinic: Hormone therapy for breast cancer -

WebMD Hormone Treatments for Breast Cancer -

Hormone Blocking Drugs, Merck Manuals