Hormone Therapy

When Hormone Therapy is Used to Treat Breast Cancer

Some breast tumors need hormones to grow. Hormone therapy keeps cancer cells from getting or using the natural hormones they need, such as estrogen and progesterone, by reducing the production of hormones or blocking their action. Lab tests can show if a breast tumor has hormone receptors. If you have hormonal breast cancer, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy.

This treatment uses drugs or surgery

  • Drugs: Your doctor may suggest a drug that can block estrogen. Another type of drug, called aromatase inhibitors, prevents the body from making the female hormone estradiol, a form of estrogen. If you have not gone through menopause, your doctor may give you a drug that stops your ovaries from making estrogen.
  • Surgery: If you have not gone through menopause, you may have surgery to remove your ovaries. The ovaries are the main source of the body’s estrogen. A woman who has gone through menopause does not need surgery because the ovaries produce less estrogen after menopause.

It is possible to become pregnant while taking hormone therapy drugs, and these medications may harm the unborn baby. If you are still menstruating, you should discuss birth control methods with your doctor.

Side Effects 

The side effects of hormone therapy depend largely on the specific drug or type of treatment. Not all women who take hormone therapy drugs have side effects. When the ovaries are removed, menopause occurs immediately. The side effects are often more severe than those caused by natural menopause, and your healthcare provider can suggest ways to cope with these side effects. 

The side effects of the drugs are similar to some of the symptoms of menopause.  

  • Hot flashes 

  • Vaginal discharge 

  • Irregular menstrual periods 

  • Joint aches 

  • Headache 

  • Fatigue 

  • Nausea 

  • Vomiting 

  • Vaginal dryness or itching, irritation of the skin around the vagina and skin rash 

Serious side effects of hormone therapy are rare. However, it can cause blood clots in the veins. Blood clots form most often in the legs and in the lungs and increase the risk of stroke. Hormone therapy drugs can also cause cancer of the uterus. Your doctor should do regular pelvic exams and discuss these risks with you. 

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