What Happens During Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer

Hormones are chemicals your body makes to control the growth and activity of normal cells. Hormones can also speed the growth of some types of cancer. For example, the hormones estrogen and progesterone can stimulate the growth of some breast tumors.

Not all breast cancers have estrogen or progesterone receptors. In general, hormone therapy appears to be more effective in treating breast tumors that have hormone receptors than in treating tumors that do not have these receptors. Your doctor can test your tumor to see if grows in response to hormones. If it doesn’t, you won’t get hormone therapy.

Hormone therapy is used to prevent or block hormones from speeding up the growth of cancer cells.

Hormone treatment may be given in two ways: medical therapy or ovarian ablation.

Medical therapy is when you take drugs to get hormone therapy. If you take hormone drugs, you may be given one of the following 3 classes:

  • selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs)

  • aromatase inhibitors

  • estrogen receptor downregulators

Here’s how these drugs work. Tumors have receptors that hormones fit into like pieces of a puzzle. Only the hormones that are the exact right shape will fit into the receptors. The more receptors that get filled with the right-shaped hormones, the faster certain types of cancer grow. These drugs may affect the amount of estrogen available to fill the receptors. Or they may fill the receptors with something else so estrogen can’t bind. Or they may damage the receptor.

Ovarian ablation is a procedure used to stop the ovaries from making female hormones. This type of hormone therapy may be done surgically by removing the ovaries. Or it may be done by damaging the ovaries with radiation.


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