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Hormone Therapy 101

Hormone therapy changes the way estrogen is produced or formed, lessening the likelihood of breast cancer tumor growth.

Hormone therapy is a major factor in breast cancer treatment and prevention. Women who are at high risk of developing the disease can use it as a preventative measure, and it is also successful in treating both early and late-stage cancer. Here is some information on hormone therapy:

What is hormone therapy?
Hormone therapy, also known as endocrine therapy, blocks the body's ability to produce estrogen or changes the way the hormone forms. This can slow or even stop the growth of hormone-sensitive tumors and can be a preventative measure for women at high risk of developing breast cancer.

Types of hormone therapy
Some hormone therapy medicines block the functioning of the ovaries. This method, called ovary ablation, is used in premenopausal women to suppress the menstrual cycle and estrogen production. Common drugs that the Food and Drug Administration has approved are goserelin, also known as Zoladex, and leuprolide, known as Lupron. 

Another common hormone therapy method is to block estrogen production in the ovaries and throughout the body. These therapeutic drugs, known as aromatase inhibitors, stop the activity of aromatase, an enzyme that the body uses to make estrogen in the ovaries and elsewhere. These medicines tend to be used in postmenopausal women. Premenopausal women produce too much of the enzyme for the drugs to work properly. Common FDA-approved drugs of this nature include exemestane (brand name Aromasin), anastrozole (brand name Arimidex) and letrozole (brand name Femara).

One set of drugs doesn't stops estrogen from being produced, but instead works to change the way estrogen stimulates cell growth. Selective estrogen receptor modulators, also known as SERMS, prevent estrogen molecules from binding together and creating tumors. Tamoxifen and raloxifene are examples of this type of drug. This is commonly used to treat women who have hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. 

Some women receive hormone therapy while undergoing a main treatment, like radiation or surgery. Others use only hormone therapy and some use it before surgery. Talk with your doctor to see if you may be a candidate for hormone therapy.

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