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Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer

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

Tamoxifen's major side effects are hot flashes, cataract acceleration, and increased risks of blood clotting or cancers/sarcoma of the uterus.

ArimidexFemara, Aromasin. These drugs belong to a class of medications known as aromatase inhibitors. After menopause, a woman's main source of estrogen comes through a process called aromatization, in which male hormones called androgens (produced by the adrenal glands located at the top of the kidneys) are converted into estrogen. This process takes place throughout the body, in the fatty tissue. These drugs fight tumor growth by stopping the conversion of androgens into estrogen.

Arimidex (anastrozole) was initially approved for the treatment of advanced (stage IV) breast cancer in women who've gone through menopause and whose cancer has grown despite taking tamoxifen. It has replaced tamoxifen as the first-line therapy for postmenopausal women with hormone-positive stage IV breast cancer. It is also approved as an add-on treatment of early hormone-positive breast cancer  in women who are postmenopausal. It is taken in pill form.

Femara (letrozole) is approved for initial or follow-up treatment of hormone-sensitive metastatic breast cancer in women who have gone through menopause. It is also used as add on therapy for early stage breast cancer. It is taken in pill form, once each day.

Tamoxifen and raloxifene (marketed as Evista) are the only drugs currently approved for breast cancer prevention in high-risk women. However, studies are under way to test whether the aromatase inhibitors can also be safely used for this purpose.


What Are the Side Effects of Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer?

The side effects of tamoxifen therapy for breast cancer are similar to symptoms of menopause. The most common side effects are hot flashes, vaginal discharge, fluid retention, and swelling. Some women experience irregular menstrual periods, headaches, fatigue, nausea and/or vomiting, vaginal dryness or itching, irritation of the skin around the vagina, and skin rash. As is the case with menopause, not all women who take tamoxifen have these symptoms. Men who take tamoxifen may experience headaches, nausea and/or vomiting, skin rash, impotence, or a decrease in sexual interest.

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