Hormone Therapy For Breast Cancer
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Hormone Therapy For Breast Cancer
What is hormone therapy?
Some breast cancers are stimulated by the hormone estrogen, which encourages cancer cells to grow. That’s why when hormones are blocked from reaching cancer cells, the cancer stops. This happens when drugs known as hormone therapies (such as Tamoxifen and other medications) are given. If your tumor isn’t sensitive to estrogen, hormone therapy is not usually appropriate.
Side effects and how to cope
Many women have side effects from hormone treatment such as Tamoxifen or other medications. These can include menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, weight gain, vaginal irritation, irregular or lighter periods, inability to concentrate, and a general sense of not being on top of things.
If you are tempted to stop hormone treatment because of side effects, discuss the situation first with your doctor, as there may be another drug that may suit you better.
Below is a range of suggestions to deal with menopausal symptoms. Different tips work for different women and it can be a case of trial and error until you find something that is suitable for you.
Hot flushes and night sweats
Hot flushes and night sweats are one of the most common side effects of hormone therapies. They can occur at any time of the day or night. Night flushes and sweats can disturb your sleep, which in turn can leave you feeling tired, irritable and unable to concentrate.
Even when the flushes are severe, they generally improve after a few months, although they may take a year or two to disappear completely. For a small number of women they can last longer.
You may find some of the following tips helpful for hot flushes
- Wear cotton clothing (not synthetic fabrics) as it absorbs moisture.
- Try wearing layers of clothing that can be taken off or put on as your body temperature changes.
- Try using water sprays or moist wipes to help lower your skin temperature.
- Try to avoid warm, stuffy rooms as they can make flushes worse.
- Regular gentle exercise like going for a walk may help reduce your symptoms.
- Stopping smoking may help decrease hot flushes.
- Splitting your daily dose of hormone therapy may help (dividing it over 2 smaller doses per day, for example) but you must as your doctor first.
- Try to relax and wait for hot flushes to pass, because being anxious about them can make the symptoms worse.
- Avoid spicy foods, caffeine, sugar, and hot drinks, as these may make hot flushes worse. It is also best not to eat large meals. Drinking more cool drinks can temporarily lower your body temperature.
- If you are overweight, losing weight may reduce your symptoms.
- Some women have found taking a vitamin E supplement effective. Check with your cancer specialist before doing so and never take more than the recommended dose.
- Some drugs have been shown to relieve hot flushes and would need to be prescribed by your doctor.
Low estrogen levels caused by hormone therapies can result in vaginal changes such as dryness and irritation. Wearing loose fitting, cotton underwear and avoiding tight fitting trousers can help, as this is less likely to irritate the vaginal area.
Vaginal moisturizers (check with your doctor) may be used. If you experience discomfort during sexual intercourse it may be helpful to apply water-based lubricants such as KY Jelly, which can be found at the pharmacy. Vaginal dryness and irritation can also be caused by infection, so it is best to visit your GP if you are experiencing problems so they can rule this out.
The brain can also be affected by a reduction in estrogen levels, which can be experienced as a lack of concentration, forgetfulness and irritability. You may find that you are experiencing extreme mood changes, from feeling positive and happy one day to miserable and low the next. These can happen unexpectedly and for no apparent reason. Trying to become involved in new interests and keeping active may help take your mind off some of the worst feelings.
Targeted cancer therapies
This is the name for a group of drugs that block the growth and spread of cancer by changing the biology of the cancer cells. The most well known targeted therapy at the moment is Herceptin (also known as trastuzumab). But others are being developed and it is likely that more targeted therapies will be available for primary breast cancer in the future.
Only people whose cancer has high levels of HER2, a protein that makes cancer cells grow, will benefit from Herceptin.
If your breast cancer is HER2 positive, you should, in most cases, be offered Herceptin, following surgery and chemotherapy, to reduce the chances of the breast cancer returning or spreading.
As Herceptin affects only cancer cells it has fewer side effects than chemotherapy drugs that also affect healthy cells. Herceptin can be given with chemotherapy, after chemotherapy or on its own. It can also be given alongside radiotherapy and hormone therapies. How it is used depends upon many factors that your doctor will consider.
Women who have not reached the menopause when they are diagnosed with breast cancer often face additional concerns when making decisions about their treatment. Uncertainty over the impact of treatments on fertility, new relationships, family life and career opportunities may all affect treatment decisions.
Take the time to think about what you want, both now and in the future. Only you can decide on the treatment that is right for you. HOPE-Egypt can provide emotional support if you need someone to talk to.
Complementary therapies cannot cure cancer but they may control some of the side effects of the illness or its treatment. These therapies look at the whole person, including physical and psychological well being, and they are mainly gentle and natural. Check with your cancer specialist that what you choose will not interfere with your other treatment.
Regular check-ups and follow-up
Now that you’ve finished your treatment (radiotherapy, chemotherapy and/or hormone therapy), ask your doctor what will happen next. The normal practice is for you to have regular check-ups for up to five years after cancer treatment. Your doctor will give you a schedule of follow-up appointments to check up on your health, which will include getting certain lab tests and different scans done. It is important to take this schedule seriously. Get the tests and scans done on time and keep the appointments with your doctor at the specified times.