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Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer

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

Anastrozole (Arimidex), letrozole (Femara), and exemestane(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.

Arimidexwas 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 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. Palbociclib (Ibrance) is a drug approved to be used along with Femara. A low white blood cell count, which should be checked before and during treatment, is the most common side effect of Ibrance. 

Aromasin is also taken as a pill. It is used in certain postmenopausal women who have early or advanced breast cancer. If you start taking Aromasin, you would stop taking tamoxifen.

There are other hormone therapy drugs used to treat breast cancer. Most, such as fulvestrant (Faslodex), and toremifene (Fareston) are used to treat metastatic breast cancer.



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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