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Chapter: 6 - Treatment

Subchapter: 9 - Hormone Therapy

Hormones like estrogen and progesterone are chemicals produced by glands in the body. In our simplified illustration, we are using circles for estrogen and squares for progesterone. Normally, these hormones help regulate body cycles like menstruation. However, as we discussed in Subchapter 3.1 “Growth of Cancer,” sometimes these same hormones can cause cancer to grow.

The pathologist will perform tests on the cancer cells to determine if they have receptors that feed on estrogen or progesterone, stimulating their growth. If the cancer cells have these receptors, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy drugs, such as blockers or inhibitors. Both types of drugs help to destroy cancer cells by cutting off their supply of hormones.

Hormone Blockers
The most common hormone therapy drug is Tamoxifen. It blocks the estrogen-shaped openings in the cells, preventing estrogen-fueled cancers from growing.

Tamoxifen can be taken as a pill on a daily basis, up to five years after surgery.

Hormone Inhibitors
Hormone inhibitors also target cancer cells with hormone receptors, but unlike hormone blockers, they work by reducing the body’s hormone production. When cancer cells are cut off from the ‘food supply’ (in this case, estrogen) the tumor begins to starve and die.

However, hormone inhibitors are only used in postmenopausal women.

Generally, the benefits of using hormone therapy and chemotherapy together have a much greater combined effect than using either alone. If your cancer is positive for hormone receptors, your doctor may recommend both therapies.

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Breast cancer affects one out of every eight women in their lifetime.

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