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Breast Cancer Health Center

Understanding Breast Cancer -- Diagnosis & Treatment

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What Are the Treatments for Breast Cancer? continued...

Hormone therapy, also called endocrine therapy, blocks your body's natural hormones from reaching the cancer cells that use them. There are a few types. You can take drugs to block the effects of estrogen, have surgery to remove your ovaries (which make estrogen), or take medicine or have radiation to make the ovaries stop making the hormone.

The estrogen-blocking drug tamoxifen (Nolvadex, Soltamox) is one of the most common hormone therapy drugs. Studies show that it lowers the chance that some early-stage cancers will come back and prevents cancer in the opposite breast. Tamoxifen works by blocking estrogen from attaching to cancer cells, which keeps them from growing.

Tamoxifen works for women before and after menopause. Most people take it for 5-10 years. While you take it, you should have a pelvic exam once a year, and let your doctor know if you have any unusual pain or bleeding.

Other types of hormone therapy keep the body from changing testosterone into estrogen. These drugs are called aromatase inhibitors. Examples are anastrozole (Arimidex), exemestane (Aromasin), and letrozole (Femara). They only work in postmenopausal women, but they work better than tamoxifen. Most people take them for 5-10 years.

For premenopausal women, doctors sometimes can treat breast cancer by making the ovaries stop working. The treatment, called ovarian ablation, means removing the ovaries with surgery, treating them with radiation, or blocking the hormone that makes them work with a group of drugs known as LHRH or GnRH agonists. Most of the time, doctors use this treatment for cancer that has spread beyond the breast.

Targeted Therapy for Breast Cancer

Targeted therapyis another way to fight cancer. About 25% of women with breast cancer have too much of a protein known as HER2, which makes the cancer spread more quickly. Several targeted therapies fight HER2-positive breast cancer. Options include ado-trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla), lapatinib (Tykerb), pertuzumab (Perjeta), and trastuzumab (Herceptin). You can take them along with other medicines. For HER2-negative breast cancers, everolimus (Afinitor) or palbociclib (Ibrance) can treat women with advanced, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.

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