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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer

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What Are Common Hormone Drugs Used for Breast Cancer? continued...

Anastrozole is often used first for postmenopausal women with advanced hormone-positive breast cancer. It's also an add-on treatment for these women with the early form of the disease.

Letrozole. If you’re past menopause, and your hormone-sensitive breast cancer is advanced, your doctor may give you this drug for both initial and follow-up treatment. It’s also used as add-on therapy for early-stage breast cancer.

Palbociclib (Ibrance) is a chemotherapy drug that’s used along with letrozole. It helps slow the growth of cancer cells. A low white blood cell count is the most common side effect. You should have your blood count checked before and during treatment.

Exemestane is used by some postmenopausal women. If you start taking it, you’ll need to stop taking tamoxifen.

If you haven’t responded well to other treatments, your doctor may suggest you take fulvestrant(Faslodex) or toremifene(Fareston).

What Are the Side Effects?

Tamoxifen can cause side effects that are similar to common menopause symptoms. You may have:

  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Fluid retention and swelling.
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Vaginal dryness or itching
  • Irritation of the skin around the vagina, and rash

Not all women who take tamoxifen have these symptoms.

Men who take it may have headaches, nausea and vomiting, skin rash, impotence, or lesssexual interest.

There’s evidence that tamoxifen can increase the risk of cancer of the uterus. If you take it, you should have a pelvic exam every year to get checked for signs of cancer. And tell your doctor right away about any vaginal bleeding other than menstrual bleeding.

Tamoxifen has been linked to a higher risk of blood clots, especially in women who are also getting chemotherapy. It can also interfere with other drugs you may be taking.

Raloxifene has similar side effects to tamoxifen, but they're generally milder.

One serious side effect of aromatase inhibitors is bone thinning (osteoporosis). That can lead to fractures. You’ll need to have your bone density checked while taking these drugs.

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