Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Hormone Treatments for Breast Cancer

Hormone Therapy

If lab tests show that your tumor depended on your natural hormones to grow, it will be called estrogen-receptor-positive or progesterone-receptor-positive. Such tumors are often sensitive to anti-estrogen therapy, called hormonal therapy.

Hormone therapy is used to prevent the growth, spread, or recurrence of breast cancer by blocking your body's natural hormones from reaching any remaining cancer cells.

Recommended Related to Breast Cancer

How to Cope When Breast Cancer Returns

When Elizabeth Edwards announced in March that her breast cancer had returned, her peers -- other breast cancer survivors -- expressed a range of emotions. Topping the list was empathy for Edwards, whose cancer had spread to her bones. There was also pride in her bravery: She chose to be open and honest about an intensely personal health issue. Others found themselves reliving their own diagnoses. And, of course, many could not help but give way to gnawing worry about their own health. Edwards' announcement...

Read the How to Cope When Breast Cancer Returns article > >

Hormone therapy includes using drugs that block the effects of estrogen or having a procedure that either removes the ovaries or makes them unable to produce hormones.

The estrogen-blocking drug tamoxifen is the most common and oldest of the hormonal therapy drugs. It has been shown to decrease the chance of recurrence in some early-stage cancers and to prevent the development of cancer in the opposite breast. Tamoxifen works by blocking estrogen from attaching to estrogen receptors on cancer cells. By blocking the estrogen receptors, it is believed that the growth of the cancer cells will be halted.

Tamoxifen is effective in pre- and postmenopausal women.

Other types of hormone therapy are called aromatase inhibitors. These drugs include anastrozole, letrozole, and examestane. They block the production of estrogen in the body, thus lowering the levels of the hormone in the blood. Aromatase inhibitors only work in postmenopausal women.

While on hormone therapy, continue to have yearly pelvic exams and Pap smears. Notify your doctor of any unusual bleeding or pain. The duration of treatment with tamoxifen or other anti-estrogen drugs should be discussed with your doctor.

Sometimes, a treatment called ovarian ablation is used to treat breast cancer. Ovarian ablation means making the ovaries of premenopausal woman nonfunctional, either by removing them with surgery or by using radiation therapy.

Another therapy is ovarian suppression. In this therapy, a drug is given that dries up the hormone that causes the ovaries to produce estrogen. Once this medication is discontinued, the estrogen production of the ovaries gradually returns. This therapy also is used in premenopausal women.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Sujana Movva, MD on April 26, 2015

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow