The subject of hormone therapy for breast cancer can at first create some confusion. This is because hormone therapy is often criticised as being one of the causes of or as a factor that increases risk of breast cancer.
However when we speak of hormone therapy for breast cancer, we are not talking about HRT or Hormone Replacement Therapy. HRT refers to treatment that is commonly used for treating the symptoms of menopause whereas breast cancer therapy using hormones is quite different.
Whereas in HRT, the female hormones estrogen and progestin are a actually administered to women, in breast cancer hormone therapy, various methods are used to block the hormones from being produced or from stimulating the breast cancer cells.
What is breast cancer hormone therapy?
In some types of breast cancer, the female hormones estrogen and progestin can encourage the growth of the cancer. In this type of cancer, certain treatments are administered to block the female hormones so that they don’t encourage the cancer cells to multiply.
What types of hormone therapy for breast cancer are there and what do they do
Hormone based breast cancer treatment can be given in two different ways – either the production of hormones from the ovaries is turned off using drugs, or drugs are used to inhibit the action of the female hormones of promoting breast cancer.
These treatments are meant to prevent the hormones from reaching the cancer and are given in cases where the tumor is seen to have receptors for progesterone and estrogen. These are known as hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers. This therapy is not used for hormone-receptor-negative breast cancers.
At the stage of diagnosis, it is also seen whether cancer cell growth appears to be encouraged by the hormones and based on this the plan for treatment of the breast cancer is devised to include or exclude the hormone treatment.
How hormone therapy for breast cancer is administered
There are many medications that help to negate the stimulating effect that estrogen and progesterone can have on the breast cancer such as:
- SERMs or Selective estrogen receptor modulators, (tamoxifen, evista, fareston).
- aromatase inhibitors, (anastrozole, exemestane, letrozole etc).
- estrogen receptor down regulators (faslodex etc).
Sometimes it may be necessary to surgically remove the ovaries and the fallopian tubes so that the hormone production is lowered and it no longer feeds the breast cancer. Sometimes this could even be done as a preventive measure when the risk of breast cancer is seen to be very high but the cancer has not been actually detected yet.
Other facts about hormone therapy for breast cancer
This therapy is used in order to reduce the risk of cancer recurring after surgical excision and is also used to treat advanced stage or metastatic cancers of the hormone-receptor-positive type. The type of therapy that is most suitable is based on several factors such as the age of a woman, whether she is menopausal or not, the stage of the breast cancer, bone density and history of arthritis and the risk of gynecological cancers such as those the uterus and ovaries.