Let’s think of breast cancer cells like a car. A car can only run if it has energy to power the engine. This power is gasoline, and without it, the engine can’t work. For breast cancer, its engine is sometimes powered by hormones in the body (estrogen(ES-TRO-JIN) — A hormone or chemical that is needed for normal bodily functions in women but can also make some breast cancers grow or progesterone(PRO-JEST-ER-OWN) — A hormone or chemical that is needed for normal bodily functions in women but can also make some breast cancers grow). And without the hormones, some breast cancers will not grow. This is where hormonal therapy comes into play.
What Is Hormonal Therapy?
Hormonal therapy is one type of systemic treatment(SIS-TEM-IK TREET-MINT) — Techniques targeting the whole body to eliminate or control a cancer. The goal of hormonal therapy is to attack cancer cells that have hormone receptors(REE-SEP-TORS) — A protein in or on a cell that may control some functions of the cell for estrogen (ER) and progesterone (PR) or to affect the production of these hormones.1 Estrogen and progesterone act like supercharged gasoline for cancer cells. These hormones help promote the growth of cancer cells that are ER or PR positive(E-R OR P-R PAUSE-AH-TIV) — Cancer that has estrogen or progesterone receptors present in the cells. Hormonal therapy tries to starve the cancer cells of nutrients to stop the cancer from growing. This is like when you block the gas line of a car, the engine stops running.
What Are the Different Types of Hormonal Therapy?
One class of hormonal medication is called Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs)(SEL-EC-TIV ES-TRO-JIN REE-SEP-TOR MOD-JOO-LAY-TERS) — A class of hormonal therapy that blocks the functions of estrogen and progesterone receptors. These medications block the estrogen and progesterone receptors directly in the cell so the receptors cannot function normally and stop the growth of breast cancer cells. SERMs are like treatments that block the gas line of a car. In this case, it’s better for the car not to run than to be speeding out of control.
A different class of hormonal treatment is called Estrogen Receptor Degraders (SERDs)A class of hormonal therapy that attaches to and destroys estrogen and progesterone receptors. These medications are similar to SERMs, but instead of blocking the gas, they remove the gas line. In breast cancer cells, the ER and PR receptors are destroyed in order to stop the cancer from growing.
The newest class of hormonal therapy is called Aromatase Inhibitors(AH-ROAM-AH-TASE IN-HIB-IT-ERS) — A class of hormonal therapy that blocks the production of estrogen and progesterone. These medications block the production of estrogen and progesterone hormones in the body, starving the cancer cells. This is like being unable to add gas to your car. When you run out of gas, the engine stops.
Why Might It Be Recommended?
Hormonal therapy is recommended for most breast cancer patients who are ER or PR positive. It is used to try to prevent the cancer from returning or to treat cancer that has spread or returned.
How Is It Given?
Today, it is very common to combine hormonal therapy medications with other types of anticancer treatment. Hormonal therapy medications are typically taken for 5 to 10 years to try to prevent breast cancer from coming back. It is usually given orally or is injected into the muscle.