Understanding Hormone Therapy For Breast Cancer

In order to better understand hormone therapy, it is important to differentiate it from hormone replacement therapy (HRT); as the two are sometimes confused.

HRT is a form of treatment used to alleviate symptoms that are associated with menopause; while hormone therapy is often recommended as a form of treatment for women with hormone receptor-positive (ER-positive and/or PR-positive) breast cancers.  HRT is used to increase estrogen levels, and hormone therapy is used for the opposite effect—to block or lower estrogen levels in the body.

In women diagnosed with hormone receptor-positive breast cancers or hormone-sensitive breast cancer, elevated levels of the hormone estrogen help cancer to grow. Hormone therapy can be administered by medication or by surgical interventions to either lower estrogen levels or to completely stop estrogen from stimulating and growing breast cancer cells.

Hormone therapy is mostly used after breast cancer surgery to help reduce the risk of cancer returning, decrease the risk of cancer developing in other breast tissue, stop or slow the growth of cancer that has spread.  There are some instances in which treatment may begin before surgery as neoadjuvant therapy.

As with all forms of medical treatments, there are side effects associated with hormone therapy.  Side effects depend on the course of treatment but are known to include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, night sweats, mood swings, and depression and bone loss.

Treatments vary from person to person but there are guidelines set in place to ensure that all patients receive quality healthcare. Guidelines are based on research and agreement among experts. Updated guidelines and overviews can be found in resources provided by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.