Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer
What Are Common Hormone Drugs Used for Breast Cancer? continued...
is the generic name) 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 or
hormone-unknown locally advanced (stage III) or stage IV breast cancer. It is
also approved as an add-on treatment of early hormone-positive breast cancer
(stages I and II) in women who are postmenopausal. It is also taken in pill
Femara (also called letrozole)
is approved for initial or follow-up treatment of hormone-sensitive locally
advanced or metastatic breast cancer in women who have gone through menopause.
It is taken in pill form, once each day.
Tamoxifen and raloxifene (marketed as
Evista) are the only drug 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
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
There is evidence that tamoxifen therapy
can increase the risk of cancer of the uterus in some women. Women taking
tamoxifen should have a pelvic examination every year to look for any signs of
cancer. Any vaginal
bleeding, other than menstrual bleeding, should be reported to a doctor as
soon as possible.
Tamoxifen therapy has been linked to an
increased risk of blood clots, especially in women who are also taking
chemotherapy. It can also interfere with other drugs you may be
Raloxifene has similar side effects to
tamoxifen, but to a lesser extent.
For Femara, the most common side effects
are mild nausea and vomiting, tiredness, headaches, muscular aches, joint pain, and hot
flashes that tend to eventually diminish or disappear. Some women may notice
some hair thinning, but this is usually mild and goes back to normal at the end
For Arimidex, common side effects include
hot flashes, nausea, decreased energy and weakness, back pain, bone pain,
flu-like symptoms, swelling of the arms and legs, as well as joint pain and
Both Femara and Arimidex are linked to
increased bone loss. Bone density should be monitored while taking these
There are other hormone therapy drugs used
to treat breast cancer. Most, such as Aromasin,
used to treat metastatic breast cancer.