WebMD senior writer Miranda Hitti interviewed breast
cancer survivors as part of a series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The
series, called “Me & the Girls,” explores the personal stories of these
women after they were diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast cancer survivor Erica Seymore, 34, lives in the Miami area. She never
felt any lumps in her breast. But she noticed a red, itchy mark on her left
breast, and also felt some pain that would come and go in that breast. "It
In general, surgical and radiation treatments are similar for these different types of breast cancer. But drug treatments -- such as chemotherapy, endocrine therapies, and other medications -- are usually different. These treatments are targeted to the specific type of cancer.
Hormone Receptor-Positive Breast Cancer
About 75% of all breast cancers are “ER positive.” They grow in response to the hormone estrogen. About 65% of these are also “PR positive.” They grow in response to another hormone, progesterone.
If your breast cancer’s cells have a significant number of receptors for either estrogen or progesterone, your cancer is considered hormone-receptor positive and likely to respond to endocrine therapies.
Breast cancer tumors that are ER/PR-positive are 60% likely to respond to endocrine therapy. Tumors that are ER/PR negative are only 5% to 10% likely to respond to endocrine therapy.
Endocrine therapies for breast cancer are treatments usually taken after surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation are finished. They are designed to help prevent recurrence of the disease by blocking the effects of estrogen. They do this in one of several ways.
The drug tamoxifen, taken by some women for up to five years after initial treatment for breast cancer, helps prevent recurrence by blocking the estrogen receptors on breast cancer cells and preventing estrogen from binding to them.
A class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors actually stops estrogen production in post-menopausal women. These drugs cannot be taken by women who have not yet gone through menopause.
HER2-Positive Breast Cancer
In about 20% to 25% of breast cancers, the cancer cells make too much of a protein known as HER2/neu. These breast cancers tend to be much more aggressive and fast-growing.