As defined by BreastCancer.org, hormonal therapy medications are whole-body (systemic) treatment for hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers. When hormone receptors in the breast get signals from hormones, cell growth increases. And since the more hormones that are in the body (particularly estrogen and progesterone), the more cancer cells will grow. So the point would be to decrease the hormone growth systemically.
Therefore, hormonal therapy medicines are used to:
--Lower the risk of early-stage hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer coming back
--Lower the risk of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer in women who are at high risk but haven’t been diagnosed with breast cancer
--Help shrink or slow the growth of advanced-stage or metastatic hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers
Some may chose hormonal therapy medications instead of ovarian shutdown or removal. With ovarian shutdown, pre-menopausal women undergo surgery to totally remove their ovaries as a treatment or risk-reduction measure in treating hormone-receptive-positive breast cancer. This will permanently stop estrogen from being produced. While some appreciate this fact, others may choose medications for personal reasons of their own.
What it is Not
It is important to remember, hormonal therapy is not hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Hormonal therapy, as stated previously, is used to decrease the hormone level in the body and HRT is used to increase it. Hormonal therapy is used in regards to hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer while HRT is used to treat symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes or mood swings. It is considered very unsafe to use HRT if a patient is diagnosed with this type of cancer.
Types of Hormonal Therapy Medicines
There are three types of hormonal therapy medicines:
Estrogen-receptor downregulators (ERDs)
Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs)
Aromatase inhibitors work by blocking the enzyme aromatase, which ultimately means less estrogen to simulate any breast cancers. Side effects for this drug may be heart problems, bone loss, joint stiffness or joint pain.
ERDs block the effect of estrogen in breast tissue. If estrogen can’t latch on, the signal to multiply doesn’t get to the cancer cells. Side effects may include various digestive problems, headache, back pain and hot flashes.
SERMs also prevent estrogen from getting to cancer cells, although with this drug, estrogen can reach other parts of the body that need it, such as the bones and uterine cells. Side effects for SERMs can be very serious – blood clots, stroke and endometrial cancer – so if you choose this type of medicine (or any of the above) and start to have strange symptoms like dizziness, shortness of breath or weakness, please contact your physician as soon as possible.
Please remember to communicate with your doctor or medical team. Discuss your choices, any side effects and fears. Together, you can come up with a plan that works best for you.
Best in Health
Dita Faulkner is a freelance writer who is just about to go on a 10-day vacation! Hallelujah!