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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer

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Hormones are chemical messengers that travel through your body, telling it what to do. The hormones estrogen and progesterone are important for women. They impact female development, menstrual cycles, and pregnancy. But in some women, they can also trigger breast cancer.

Hormone therapy for breast cancer, also called endocrine therapy, prevents cancer cells from growing by either blocking or removing the hormones.

In some cases, women may have surgery to stop making these hormones. If you’re still having periods, your doctor may suggest removing your ovaries.

When Is Hormone Therapy Used?

Not all breast cancers are fueled by hormones, or "hormone-sensitive." Those that aren’t won’t respond to hormone therapy. If you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, your health team will test your tumor to see if it’s sensitive to either estrogen or progesterone. If it’s sensitive to either or both, your doctor will prescribe you hormone-blocking treatment.

If you’ve already been treated for breast cancer, you might use hormone therapy to help keep it from coming back. It also helps lower the risk of new cancers in the other breast.

Also, if you don't have the disease but have a family history of it, or genes that raise your risk, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy to lower your chances of getting it.

What Are Common Hormone Drugs Used for Breast Cancer?

Tamoxifenblocks the activity of estrogen and is okay for women to use both before and after menopause. Men with hormone-sensitive breast cancer can take it, too.

For women with advanced cancer that’s hormone-sensitive, it’s standard treatment. If you have early stage breast cancer, or cancer that’s advanced to other areas of the breast, you may take it after surgery.

It’s also one of the drugs women at high risk of cancer may take it to lower their chances of getting cancer. The other drug approved to help lower the risk is raloxifene(Evista.)

Aromatase Inhibitors

Women past menopause may get prescribed one of these drugs. After menopause, your main source of estrogen comes through a process called aromatization, in which hormones called androgens are changed into estrogen. Aromatase inhibitors fight tumor growth by stopping aromatization from happening. These drugs include anastrozole(Arimidex), exemestane(Aromasin),andletrozole(Femara).

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