The link between hormones and breast cancer is still being researched. Medical experts have found that hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, which are naturally occurring hormones in the human body, can increase breast cancer rates in certain breast cancer cells.

Breast Cancer and Hormone Replacement Therapy

Certain breast cancer cells have estrogen and progesterone receptors, which mean they can multiply quicker when exposed to these common female hormones. Breast cancer patients who have these types of breast cancer cells are often put on a hormone therapy plan to inhibit the body’s ability to create estrogen and to stop the cancer cells from growing and reproducing.

Not all women who have breast cancer need hormone therapy. Doctors can conduct tests that determine if the cancer cells have estrogen and progesterone receptors. If tests are positive then hormone therapy should be prescribed. Cancer cells that come back positive are deemed estrogen receptor positive or progesterone receptor positive.

There are several prescription drugs used for breast cancer hormone therapy:

  • Tamoxifen
  • Fareston
  • Arimidex
  • Aromasin
  • Megace

Tamoxifen is the most common estrogen-blocking drug and has been used to treat hormone sensitive breast cancer cells for 30 years. The drug has provided positive results for patients with all level of breast cancer from the early to late stages. The drug works by blocking the estrogen from attaching to estrogen receptors which causes cells to stop growing.

Tamoxifen should not be taken by pregnant women, women who are planning on getting pregnant, or women with a history of blood clots, strokes, or blood thinning medication. Side effects of the drug are similar to menopausal side effects and include irregular menstruation cycle, headache, vaginal dryness, and fluid retention. A 1998 study funded by the National Cancer Institute showed that Tamoxifen was also effective at preventing breast cancer in women who were labeled high risk.

The best prevention method for breast cancer is to have yearly mammogram’s for early detection. Women age 40 and above should have a mammogram every one to two years according to the National Cancer Institute.

Questions to ask your doctor about hormone therapy

Hormone therapy isn’t always clear and simple, which is why it’s important to ask your doctor some important questions before starting.

  • How long do I need to have hormone therapy?
  • Is bioidentical therapy (matches your body’s hormone structure) an option?
  • Can we take a baseline test so I will know how much my hormone levels are changing over time?
  • What are the side effects?
  • Which hormones are in my medicine?
  • What are the different types of hormone therapy?
  • What is the first step in starting hormone therapy?
  • How will I know if hormone therapy is working?
  • Will I need to change my diet?
  • Can I still exercise?
  • What emergency symptoms require me to go to urgent care?