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What is Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the breast cells. When the genes of the cells mutate, it becomes a cancer cell. It is one of the most common types of cancer that occur in women. The symptoms of breast cancer include breast skin redness, flaking, crusting, scaling or peeling of breast skin, breast skin changes, changes in the appearance, shape or size of the breast, thickening or lump in the breast.

Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer

In some breast cancer patients, female hormones such as progesterone and estrogen can aid the growth of cancer cells. This kind of breast cancer is referred to as hormone-sensitive breast cancer. Once the supply of hormones to the cancer cells is stopped, they cannot grow or spread in the body. This treatment is referred to as hormone therapy or endocrine therapy. It works only in women who have hormone receptor-positive tumors and will not work in those with hormone receptor-negative tumors. Consult the best breast cancer doctors to understand more about this treatment option.

The Best Time for Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy is mostly done in patients when there is a chance of cancer growing back after the surgery. The therapy, which is done after the surgery, is called adjuvant therapy. Depending on the situation, this therapy can also be used before the surgery. The therapy, which is done before the surgery, is called neoadjuvant therapy.

Hormone Therapy: Duration of Treatment

Patients need to take hormone therapy treatment for a minimum of five years. In some cases, the treatment may need to be continued even after five years if there is an increased risk of cancer cells growing back in the patient. A special type of test called Breast Cancer Index is done to know whether the patient requires hormone therapy for more than five years.

In a few cases, if the cancer cells have spread to other body parts or have grown back, hormone therapy is used to treat such patients.

How Does Hormone Therapy Work?

There are different kinds of hormone therapy treatments for women who have not gone through menopause (premenopausal women) and women who have already gone through menopause (postmenopausal women). Around 70% of breast cancer patients have a tumour that is hormone receptor-positive. The cancer cells in these patients use hormones to spread and grow in the body.

There are some treatments or medications that are used to block or decrease the level of hormones (progesterone or estrogen) in the female body. It results in the slow progress of cancer cells in the breast tissue. The chances of cancer coming back or spreading to other body parts get completely decreased.

Hormone therapy can be used for:

  • Decreasing the level of estrogen in the body of the female
  • Preventing breast cancer cells from receiving estrogen hormone in the body

Types of Hormone Therapy

  • Blocking Effects of Estrogen
  • Blocking Production of Estrogen
  • Blocking Function of Ovaries

Drugs Used to Decrease the Level of Estrogen

There are drugs that can decrease the level of estrogen production in the female body by stopping its production in the skin and fat tissue. These drugs, which stop the estrogen production in the female body, are called Aromatase Inhibitors (AI), which include:

  • Exemestane (Aromasin)
  • Letrozole (Femara)
  • Anastrozole (Arimidex)

These drugs are not capable of stopping estrogen production in the ovaries. Therefore, they cannot completely stop the estrogen production, but only reduce the estrogen level in the female body.

Also Read:- How Immunotherapy Is Making an Impact on Liver Cancer?

Reducing Level of Estrogen Production in Ovaries

Estrogen production in ovaries can be stopped in the following ways:

  • Leuprolide (Lupron) & Goserelin (Zoladex) drugs help to stop estrogen production in ovaries
  • Damaging the ovaries and their functions through radiation therapy
  • Surgery to remove the ovaries and stop estrogen production

Women can experience some side effects when estrogen production is stopped in the ovaries. These side effects include:

  • No interest in sexual intercourse or lower libido
  • Depression and mood swings
  • Dryness in Vagina
  • Sweating at night and hot flashes
  • Menstruation cycle changes or irregular menstrual cycle

Doctors generally consider several factors like the patient’s age, type of breast cancer, and overall health condition of the patient before deciding to go ahead with hormone therapy. 

It also depends on whether the woman wants to conceive after treatment and whether she has gone through the menopause phase. 

Patients should discuss with doctors the risks, benefits, complications, side effects and other treatment options before deciding upon hormone therapy. Get in touch with experts from the best hospitals in India for cancer treatment.

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