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Hormones are naturally occurring substances that control the growth and activity of cells in the body. However, the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone can also promote the growth of some breast cancers. Around 75% breast cancers are sensitive to hormones in this way and are thus known as hormone positive breast cancers.
Hormone therapies are tablets that block the production of oestrogen or reduce the ability of breast cancer cells to respond to oestrogen. They aim to prevent the breast cancer spreading or coming back.
They are only effective in treating breast cancers that are hormone positive. At the Thames Breast Clinic, all patients with hormone positive breast cancer are offered hormone therapy, unless contraindicated.
There are two main types of hormone therapy:
These include anastrazole (Arimidex), exemestane (Aromasin) and letrozole (Femara). These are typically given to women who have been through the menopause
This is for women before or after the menopause.
Hormone Therapy treatment
The exact treatment will vary from person to person, and lasts typically five years in duration. Some recent data shows there may be some benefit in extending the duration of hormonal therapy for up to 10 and perhaps even 15 years. In some cases, treatment is given before surgery (called neoadjuvant endocrine therapy) to reduce the size of a tumour.
Both tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors are safe but can cause menopausal symptoms. Tamoxifen is associated with an increased of risk of a blood clot while aromatase inhibitors can also cause pain and stiffness of the joints as well as osteoporosis. At the Thames Breast Clinic, we are able to help patients experiencing debilitating menopausal symptoms by offering a range of alternative interventions such as acupuncture.
Occasionally, hormonal therapy may be used to treat patients with breast cancer who are too frail to undergo surgery. In such cases, the Thames Breast Clinic will monitor the patient closely to ensure that the tumour remains contained with this treatment.
Recent evidence shows that breast cancer patients who are on bisphosphonates not only have healthier bones, but also have a lower risk of breast cancer spreading to the bones. Our team at the Thames Breast Clinic was one of the first in the local area that started using bisphosphonates for this purpose. Typically patients are given an infusion of zolandrenic acid once every six months through a drip over a couple of hours.