When Cancer Patients May Use Hormonal Therapy

When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, particularly breast cancer patients, first some cancerous cells are removed. After they are surgically removed, the cells are tested for hormone receptors. If the tumor is found to be "receptor positive", the patient may elect to use hormonal therapy in order to lower the risk that cancer will recur in the breast tissue or other parts of the body. It accomplished this by either preventing the hormones from acting on the cell or lowering the amounts of hormones in the body.
The female body possesses two primary hormones, which are estrogen and progesterone, that play a significant role in the growth of breast cells. The way that breast cells make use of these hormones is that the breast cells will normally have very special receptors that will permit those particular hormones to connect to the breast cells themselves. Breast cancer cells that also possess those particular hormone receptors are known as "hormone-receptor positive." By the use of hormonal therapy, it is possible to reduce the amount of these hormones available to the cancer cells, which is the goal of hormonal therapy, and it may cause them to cease growing, or die.
Patients with breast cancer that possess these receptor-positive tumors will usually experience fewer local cancer recurrences and experience a longer overall survival than those with receptor-negative cancer tumors. When receptive-negative patients use hormonal therapy there is often little effect on the cancers. That’s to say, the use of hormonal therapy is ineffective on cancers that are not receptor positive.


Tamoxifen is the most widely utilized medication for patients who elect to use hormonal treatment for breast cancer. This is the case in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women who have breast cancer. Tamoxifen acts by blocking the ability of those hormones to attach to cancer cell receptors. Brest cancer patients who elect to use Tamoxifen for their choice to use hormonal therapy will take one pill once a day for five years after their breast cancer surgical procedure. Side effects due to Tamoxifen when breast cancer patients use hormonal therapy include night sweats and hot flashes, as well as nausea, menstrual irregularity (when the Tamoxifen is taken before menopause), also vaginal discharge, and perhaps a dry and itchy vagina. Less common side effects of this medication can include depression, a patient’s loss of appetite, and even weight gain, headaches, and eye problems, such as cataracts. When patients elect to use hormonal therapy with this medication need to know that Tamoxifen can also increase the risk of strokes and pulmonary embolism, in which a blood clot lodges in the lung, as well as cancers of the uterus.
In postmenopausal women, another approach to use hormonal therapy are medications called aromatase inhibitors, medications that reduce the amount of estrogen that the body produces. Patients generally take them orally each day for five years. The effectiveness appears to match that of Tamoxifen, but with a lower risk of certain side effects, including cancer of the uterus as well as blood clots. However, patients who take these medications may experience joint or muscle pain, and it appears that the patients may be at an increased risk of osteoporosis.
Another method of lowering the amount of estrogen (use hormonal therapy) in the body and slowing or stopping the growth and spread of breast cancer is to surgically remove the female patient’s ovaries. This approach may be suggested if the patient’s family history indicates that the patient is at elevated risk for ovarian as well as breast cancer.
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