Written by : Dr.M.D.Mazumdar, MD
Hormone therapy for breast cancer is aimed at either reducing the level of estrogen in the body, or preventing the estrogen already produced from acting on the receptors in the breast cells.
(Click this link to know how hormone therapy works.)
The duration of treatment may vary from person to person and from drug to drug but the most common treatment duration is 5 years. If hormone therapy is prescribed for recurrence or due to metastatis of the cancer, it is continued for more than 5 years and as long as it takes to control the cancer.
Types of Hormone Therapy
There are three main groups of drugs used in hormone therapy:
This group of drugs are prescribed after surgery or chemotherapy or radiotherapy for breast cancer and aim to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back. There are three main drugs:
Aromatase Inhibitors are commonly prescribed together with SERMs like Tamoxifen. After surgery, taking a AI and a Tamoxifen, either together, or one after the other, has shown to decrease the risks of recurrence of breast cancer.
AIs are given orally as pills in a single daily dose.
While the SERMs used in different breast cancers act as anti-estrogen in breast cells, they act like an estrogen in other tissues, like the uterus and the bones. Hence the term "selective".
SERMS act on the receptors by sitting on their surface and preventing the estrogen from attaching to the cells. If estrogen isn't attached to a breast cell, the cell does not receive estrogens signals to grow and multiply.
SERM's are usually prescribed for women who are still menstruating and have not yet attained menopause and has not started showing any of the menopausal symptoms. They can be prescribed after surgery (adjuvant therapy) or before surgery (neoadjuvant therapy). The duration of treatment is usually five years. There are three SERMs commonly used:
Of these three drugs, Tamoxifen is the most widely used. It can be used in both premenopausal as well as menopausal women. Toremifene (Fareston) is generally used in metastatic breast cancers. Both are prescribed daily in pill form.
It is commonly used in metastatic breast cancer when tamoxifen and/or other SERMs have stopped working.
ERDs are given in the injectible form. Initially, for the first month, the shots are given 2 weeks apart. After that, they are given once a month.
There is only one ERD available:
Drugs used for Treatment of Breast Cancer
Other Treatments to Decrease Estrogen Levels in the Body
In premenopausal women, the level of estrogen can be brought down by stopping the ovaries from producing estrogen or by removing the ovaries. This is called 'ovarian ablation'.
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