Hormone therapy and breast cancer

Hormone therapy will be prescribed if your breast cancer is hormone receptor positive.
 
In this type of breast cancer there are receptors on the cell surface that latch onto the female hormone oestrogen, which stimulates the cancer cell to grow. Oestrogen receptor positive cancers are common and account for approximately 75 per cent of breast cancers in post-menopausal women and around 50 to 60 per cent of pre-menopausal women. Testing for hormone receptors is now routinely carried out on tissue taken during a biopsy or after the operation to remove the breast cancer.
 
A small proportion of breast cancers (around five per cent) are sensitive to progesterone only, which may mean that they will respond to hormone therapy. In this case, your specialist will discuss the possible benefits and risks of hormone treatment with you. If your breast cancer isn't hormone sensitive (receptor negative tumours) hormone therapy will not be of benefit. If this is the case you may be offered chemotherapy only, or you may not need any further treatment.
 
Hormone therapy can also be used alone as a treatment for breast cancer, for example for people who have other illnesses such as lung or heart conditions that mean they are unable to have surgery or radiotherapy. It can also be an option for those who don't want to have surgery. 
 
Hormone therapy can also be used to treat breast cancer recurrences and can be used either alone or alongside other treatments, depending on what you have had before. If your breast cancer comes back when you're already being treated with hormone therapy, you'll probably be offered a different type of hormone therapy.
 

Types of hormone therapy 

Primary (neoadjuvant) hormone therapy is given before radiotherapy (and sometimes before surgery) to reduce the size of the breast cancer. It also makes the cancer cells more sensitive to the radiotherapy so that the treatment works better. 
 
Adjuvant hormonal therapy is given after surgery or radiotherapy to kill any remaining tumour cells, or to try and prevent the cancer from coming back. 
 
Your doctor will discuss with you if and when you need to take hormone therapy. 
 
There are several targeted therapy drugs:
  • Anastrozole (Arimidex ®) 
     
  • Exemestane (Aromasin®) 
     
  • Letrozole (Femara®) 
     
  • Ovarian ablation 
     
  • Tamoxifen   
     
  • Goserelin (Zoladex®)

You can also watch our short video on hormone therapy.

Hormone therapy and breast cancer

This video tells you all about female hormone therapy. The information in this video was correct as of 18 June 2015.

Call our Cancer Nurseline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 6pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm

Date Last Reviewed: 
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Date Last Revised: 
Thursday, June 18, 2015