One of the identifications early in your diagnosis is the type of cancer that you have. Generally, this can be divided into two types: hormone positive or hormone negative. The implication is whether your cancer cells are fed by hormones (estrogen and/or progesterone) or not. This affects your long-term treatment.
Most cancers are treated with a combination of surgery, chemo, and radiation. These are all meant to eradicate the cancer that you have in your body right now. But what about any future cells that may decide to misbehave later?
The majority of breast cancer diagnoses are hormone positive (around 80%). This is the type that I have the most experience with, and why I wanted to share my understanding of what you need to know.
When it comes to hormone positive cancer, it is all about the endocrine therapy.
After you complete your cancer therapy, you will be shell-shocked as the raise the scary words such as endocrine therapy, Tamoxifen, aromatase inhibitors, ovarian suppression, and oophorectomy. What most doctors do NOT seem to discuss are what all these things are, how they affect you, and what side affects you can expect with each. I am going to try to break it down for you and share what I know. And as always, expect resources to help you in your own research.
Ok, deep breath. Here we go!
Endocrine therapy – What the huh????
According to the National Cancer Institute, “Hormone therapy (also called hormonal therapy, hormone treatment, or endocrine therapy) slows or stops the growth of hormone-sensitive tumors by blocking the body’s ability to produce hormones or by interfering with effects of hormones on breast cancer cells.”i
Big fancy words. I mentioned above that for those of us with hormone positive cancer, our cancer cells are fed by estrogen. Visualize throwing meat to a piranha. Endocrine therapy is basically a pill taken daily that prevents the cancer cells from feeding. Essentially the pill starves the cancer. There are two ways this happens, which I will discuss in the next few sections. These types of pills are SERMs and AIs.