Topic Overview

Some breast cancers need the hormones estrogen or progesterone to grow. These cancer cells have "receptors" on their surfaces. Receptors are like doorways to let hormones in.

These types of breast cancer are called estrogen-receptor-positive (ER+) or progesterone-receptor-positive (PR+) breast cancer.

Hormone treatment keeps these cancers from getting the hormones they need. It's like starving the cells so that they stop growing. Sometimes they even shrink.

Treatment is done with medicines, surgery, or radiation. Treatment works in one of two ways:

  • It lowers the amount of hormones your body makes.
  • It blocks the receptors so that the hormones can't get inside to feed the cancer cells.

Hormone treatment may be used:

  • After treatment for early-stage breast cancer, to reduce the chances that the breast cancer will come back.
  • To prevent breast cancer in women who have a higher risk for breast cancer and who want a way to lower their risk.
  • To treat advanced breast cancer or breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast.

Types of hormone treatment

Medicines include:

Hormone treatment sometimes involves surgery to remove the ovaries or radiation treatments to the ovaries. The goal is to stop the ovaries from making estrogen.

Side effects of hormone medicines

Side effects depend on the drug that is used.


Side effects of surgery

  • Removing your ovaries makes you start menopause, if you haven't started it already. Menopause often has symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, urinating often, and having less interest in sex. And it raises your risk for other diseases, like heart disease and osteoporosis.
  • When your ovaries are removed, you can no longer get pregnant.

Side effects of radiation

  • The most common side effects of radiation treatment are feeling very tired and having sensitive skin in the treated area. Some people lose their appetite, feel sick to their stomach (nauseated), or have other problems.
  • The side effects are usually temporary.

Managing side effects

Some hormone treatments cause menopause symptoms like vaginal dryness, mood swings, and hot flashes. If you have mild symptoms, you may get some relief if you eat healthy foods, exercise, and lower your stress.

Talk to your doctor if you have severe symptoms that aren't helped by making changes to your lifestyle. You may be able to take medicine to help your symptoms.

Some hormone treatments cause thinning bones. Talk to your doctor to make sure you are doing all you can to protect your bones.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
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