In this Navigator topic the term "hormonal treatments" is used to avoid confusion with hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is not a cancer treatment. HRT involves the prescription of oestrogen to a woman after she reaches menopause to alleviate symptoms of menopause.
Hormonal treatments for breast cancer (also called endocrine therapies) involve a range of treatments for patients who have hormone (oestrogen and/or progesterone) receptors on their breast cancer cells.
The types of therapy recommended will depend on whether you have reached menopause.
Testing for hormone receptors
Testing for hormone receptors on breast cancer cells is part of routine pathology testing following surgery for breast cancer. If your breast cancer cells are oestrogen and/or progesterone receptor positive, this will be indicated in your pathology report. There are resources in this Navigator topic to assist you to make sense of your pathology report.
The information in your pathology report will also be a useful in helping you make decisions about your breast cancer treatment. Many factors will influence what treatment you have. It is always best to discuss your report in conjunction with your oncologist in order to fully understand the issues specific to your situation.
"Some side effects are common to all hormonal therapies, and some only happen with certain therapies. Everyone is different in how they respond to treatment…All hormonal treatments can cause menopausal symptoms" (Cancer Australia, 2012)
Committing to treatment
Sticking with hormonal treatments for breast cancer is a long-term commitment that can be very challenging at times and for different reasons, such as side effects. Hormonal treatments may be recommended for at least five years, and sometimes ten years to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. Some of the resources in this Navigator topic have information about the challenges of sticking with treatment and strategies to assist.
Having access to comprehensive information about your treatment options, and being able to discuss them with your medical oncologist or breast care nurse can help you feel confident about your decisions.
Talking to other women who have had hormonal treatments for breast cancer can also be useful. While everyone's experience of hormonal treatment is different, our experience at Counterpart is that women find it valuable to connect with other women who have had a similar experience. This can help normalise feelings and anxieties, and offer ways of coping.
The purpose of this navigator is to guide you to information about hormonal treatments for breast cancer. This information is not meant to be a replacement for consultations with and recommendations from your treating team, but rather to provide a starting point to information seeking. If you are unsure about anything, you should always consult your medical team.